Trial Begins For Five Accused Of Operating Bank For Drug Profits
MIAMI (AP) _ Jury selection has begun for the trial of five men, including two Sunshine State Bank officials, accused of using the bank as a front for marijuana smuggling and other ventures financed by drug profits.
An indictment charged a syndicate was organized ″for the purpose of importing and distributing marijuana, laundering the proceeds and profits, and investing the monies derived ... in foreign and domestic corporations, financial institutions and businesses.″
The government lists several companies, including the bank, which it said were used as fronts for the operation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Cassidy said the enterprise imported and distributed 1.5 million pounds of marijuana.
Jury selection began Monday with seven people selected.
The defendants include Ray L. Corona, chairman of the Sunshine State Bank, and his father, Rafael L. Corona, the bank’s managing director. Also standing trial are Manuel Lopez Castro, a Miami lawyer, Gerardo Jorge Guevara and William Vaughn.
All five are charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. The Coronas and Guevara also are charged with mail fraud. On the racketeering and conspiracy counts alone, all the defendants maximum penalties of 40 years in federal prison and $50,000 in fines if convicted.
A former codefendant, Jose Antonio Fernandez, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges last week and was sentenced to 50 years in prison and fined $52,000.
Cassidy said Fernandez would be a witness at the trial.
The indictment identified Guevara as Fernandez’s ″partner in a marijuana smuggling syndicate,″ which operated as Cumberland Management Corp.
The indictment said the Coronas were chosen by Fernandez and Guevara to be the front owners of Sunshine State Bank and to conceal their drug trafficking operation.
″The defendants Ray and Rafael Corona assisted in concealing the assets of the Fernandez marijuana smuggling syndicate by submitting false information through the banking authorities,″ the indictment said. It also charged the father and son with ″concealing the true ownership of Fernandez and Guevara″ of the bank.
Sunshine State Bank has suffered financial difficulties recently. On July 29, its finanical report to the state said nearly $24 million of its $66 million in loans were past due. Last year it lost $1.8 million.