Judge may release of couple in money laundering case
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A couple accused of laundering millions of dollars for a Mexican drug cartel through a small Kansas bank may soon be free as they await trial.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten told George and Agatha Enns of Meade, Kansas, during a detention hearing Friday that he would release them on a $50,000 bond each, if updated information they provide the court’s pretrial services office about their assets appears to be satisfactory.
“This is not an easy decision,” Marten said, noting that there is a lot of money that has passed through the couple’s various accounts.
The government alleges that between 2011 and 2014, the couple deposited more than $6.8 million into their account at Plains State Bank; cash deposits totaled more than $1.6 million. The couple also had an account with Bank of America in El Paso containing about $1 million.
But the judge also noted that the couple has a “minuscule” criminal record.
“I do not see you as a danger to anyone,” Marten said. “My concern is that you have the ability to flee.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Barnett argued that the couple has not identified the source of the money, saying the government believes they have undisclosed assets and resources available to them that would allow them to flee to Mexico.
“My greatest concern is I don’t feel the defendants have been completely forthright,” Barnett said.
But defense attorney Randolph Ortega told the court that with all the assets the government has seized, the couple is “legally indigent,” and that if it wasn’t for their 10 family members — many of whom were in the courtroom — they wouldn’t have been able to retain counsel. He contends the money came from the sale of corn.
Ortega argued for their release, noting that the couple was just minutes away from the U.S.-Mexico border when their home was raided and could have fled at that time. Instead, they choose to voluntarily surrender to authorities in Texas. He also noted that all their family and extended family were living in Kansas.
“They would rather be incarcerated and see their family than to be in Mexico on the run,” Ortega said.
James Kirk Friend, the former bank president at Plains State Bank, is also charged with conspiracy to launder drug money for Mexican cartels, while two former employees of the small southwest Kansas bank are charged with failing to report the suspicious financial transactions. All the former bank employees remain free pending trial.
Investigators seized more than 5,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $2 million in cash.
In addition to conspiracy, the couple also faces 34 counts of money laundering and one count of attempted money laundering.
Prosecutors say the federal indictment in Kansas is part of a larger national investigation, which has resulted in 20 indictments against people in Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Mexico.