A Colombian national in his 70s received a 50-month prison term on Wednesday in Boston for laundering more than $760,000 for a feared crime syndicate with ties to the late Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug trafficker.
Pedro Mejia Salazar of Medellin, Colombia, was sentenced in US District Court in Boston, after pleading guilty in May to a charge of conspiracy to launder money, according to legal filings and the office of Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb.
Prosecutors said Salazar washed at least $768,586 in drug proceeds in Boston and elsewhere over a three-year period at the direction of La Oficina de Envigado, a crime syndicate based in Medellin.
Escobar formed the group more than three decades ago, and last year it boasted several thousand armed members in Medellin alone, many of them minors, according to Colombia Reports.
Salazar laundered drug money though a family business, and his case was part of Operation Powerplay, a global undercover probe targeting suspects in Colombia who launder cash for drug rings, Weinreb’s office said.
“The investigation targeted drug traffickers who import drugs into the United States and money launderers who use the international financial system and the Black Market Peso Exchange to return drug proceeds collected in the United States and other countries to Colombia,” Weinreb’s office said in a statement.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the peso exchange works when a broker such as Salazar arranges for US drug proceeds to be transferred to a vendor selling legitimate goods. Once those goods are shipped to Colombia and sold by a business owner there for local currency, that currency is turned over to Salazar, who pays the original drug trafficker.
Prosecutors said that, to date, Operation Powerplay has yielded seizures of $15.2 million, 3,967 kilograms of cocaine, 32,000 doses of the club drug MDMA, nine kilograms of meth, 1,183 kilograms of marijuana, and 7.8 kilograms of heroin.
But Salazar, despite his involvement in crime, has lived a life far removed from that of a drug kingpin, according to legal filings.
Prosecutors wrote in one document that “there is no evidence that the defendant lived a lavish lifestyle.”
And Salazar’s lawyer, Nelson Israel Alfaro, said in a court filing that his client comes from “extremely humble origins” and worked most of his life as a farmer with no formal education. Alfaro said Salazar “survived by providing an ancillary service to this horrible [drug] industry.”
“He fully understands that his role as a money broker and launderer fueled the engine that kept the drug trade flowing” and is “truly remorseful,” Alfaro wrote.
Salazar also had to pay off debts he incurred when some of the cash he was attempting to launder disappeared in transit, Alfaro wrote, and some of his customers were “hitmen from the notoriously violent Oficina de Envigado” syndicate.
Alfaro requested that Salazar, who he said suffers from “numerous ailments” including asthma and diabetes, be sent to a federal prison with a hospital, such as FMC Devens in Massachusetts or FMC Butner in North Carolina.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.