Articles Tagged with money laundering

By Brian Bandell – Senior Reporter, South Florida Business Journal

December 23, 2020

Philip Esformes will be released from federal prison after President Donald

After a two-week trial in federal court in the Southern District of Florida a well-known and highly respected South Florida attorney faces decades in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of federal crimes.

James M. Schneider, who is 77 years old, is now awaiting sentencing for the crimes he was convicted of earlier this month which could easily amount to a lifetime in prison due to his age. A U.S. District Judge is set to sentence Schneider on Feb. 14, 2019.

In October, 2017, Schneider was charged with multiple counts of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud. At sentencing, he now faces a maximum statutory sentence of twenty-five years for each count of the securities fraud and conspiracy counts, and ten years each for money laundering and the conspiracy to commit money laundering counts, as well as a fine up to $250,000 or double the proceeds of the scheme as to each.

Some would say that the exclusive island village of Bal Harbour, Florida doesn’t even need a police department. With a population of just more than 2,500 residents; as of the latest census, the town’s crime rate is minimal in comparison to other parts of Miami-Dade County. In addition to its permanent residents, Bal Harbour boasts close to fifteen percent of Miami’s overall tourism (as of 2014), with luxury hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis as well as the world class luxury Bal Harbour Shops, Bal Harbour Beach and Haulover Beach Park.

The latest statistics show a total of two violent crimes included in the one assault and robbery that occurred, with the rate of murders and rape exhibiting at zero. There were only two vehicle thefts last year which amounts to a miniscule percentage when compared to the overall incidents of motor vehicle theft in the entire county of Miami-Dade. Complete crime statistics can be found by clicking here.

So it may seem odd that a small police agency in a town facing little crime would concoct a plan to take on the world’s most treacherous drug cartels. But in a partnership with the Glades County Sheriff’s Office that’s exactly what they did. Or did they?

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Venezuela has recently been experiencing a shortage of all foreign currencies due to a substantial drop in oil prices, the country’s central source of US dollars. It has gone through an economic contraction of close to three percent and is fighting a very high rate of inflation which is currently more than sixty percent.

Because of these financial difficulties, the government-determined exchange rate of the Bolivar, (Venezuela’s currency) has skyrocketed from approximately 4.25 Bolivar for 1 US dollar in 2013, to the current 6.29-1 legal rate of exchange (Source: Bloomberg 5/15/2015).

But the rate of exchange on Venezuela’s black market dwarfs the legal rate as US dollars become more precious to purchase items considered to be “essential goods” such as food and medicine that are not manufactured in Venezuela. These items make up around seventy percent of all imported products. The difference between the official exchange rate and the black-market rate can be up to as much as an exorbitant one-thousand percent. Recently, one U.S. dollar could be exchanged for close to three hundred Bolivars.

Due to this unique situation in the country, drug cartels have found a way to amass huge profits by carrying away loads of these essential products such as gasoline, imported medicines and foodstuffs to Colombia where they are traded for drugs, and dollars which are then brought back and sold in Venezuela making mammoth profits. These highly lucrative smuggled goods have bankrolled the rise of paramilitary groups, which now control significant strips of territory between the Venezuelan and Colombian border.

Allegedly, cashing in on the action, under the ruse of running a enterprise that would lend money to Venezuelan businesses so they could trade with companies in the United States, Martin Lustgarden Acherman, a Venezuelan-Austrian residing in Miami-Dade County perpetrated a scheme where he would fly drug profits out of Columbia; route them through his bank accounts in South Florida as well as other locations, and then exchange the funds for the local currency in Venezuela after flying the laundered currency back to that country.

The recent violence in Venezuela’s Capital of Caracas and other major cities, hand-in-hand with a collapsed economy has left store shelves sparsely filled. American cash is king on the black market, which in many cases has become the lifeline for local businesses so they are able to conduct commerce outside the country.

Earlier this month, federal authorities arrested Acherman, charging that he used his bank accounts here in South Florida to take advantage of the economic crisis in Venezuela to the benefit drug cartels, not businesses. He was arrested in Miami with Salomon Bendayan and Rama Krishna Kuchibhotla according to The Venezuelan Daily Brief.

Specifically, the federal government has charged that Acherman used his three Bank of America accounts located in Doral as conduits to launder $100 million in drug profits originating in Colombian back into Venezuela where he allegedly exchanged the proceeds for local currency at excessive black market prices.

Earlier this week federal prosecutors stated in court that Acherman “quarterbacked an international scheme to move U.S. dollars around on behalf of drug cartels and paramilitary organizations in Colombia… He takes advantage of the unique situation in Venezuela… has made a business of gathering U.S. dollars and making them available in places they are hard to come by such as Venezuela.”

Acherman has been charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction and is being held pending further action. His lawyer commented that some of the government’s charges were “fantasy”, but did not provide further comment.

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After an investigation that went on for over half a year, eight South Florida men were taken into custody as the result of a sting that covered territory along the East Coast in an offshore online sports gambling ring that was operated out of the suspect’s homes as well as local businesses. The online bookmaking ring took bets on professional and college sports including football, baseball, and basketball.

Related suspects were also arrested in New York City, Upstate New York’s Rockland County as well as Bergen County, New Jersey, with a grand total of over $4 million seized by federal agents between all locations. More than sixty search warrants were executed by multi-state agencies made up of the Organized crime unit in Florida as well as the FBI’s criminal division in the New York Metropolitan area and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Organized Crime Unit with assistance from the New York State Police Special Investigative Unit, Queens District Attorney’s Organized Crime Division, the NYPD Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Clarkstown and Ramapo police, the Bergen County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In New York, the biggest catch found in the net was Daniel Pagano, now 61, the son of former Genovese crime family boss Joseph Luco Pagano. The younger Pagano is alleged to be a Captain in the continuing criminal enterprise.

Also picked up in the operation and accused of being linked to the infamous crime family was Pasquale Capolongo who was taken into custody in West Palm Beach, Florida. Capolongo had moved from White Plains, NY to West Palm Beach. He has a history of convictions for illegal gambling charges during the time he lived in Rockland County which has apparently followed him to South Florida.

The South Florida portion of the booty amounted to over $1.2 million and was snatched from the suspect’s homes, safety deposit boxes and personal bank accounts. According to papers released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, in this new age of digital crime; in addition to conducting their illicit business from their homes it is also alleged that they worked out of local casinos and a dog track, an Italian market in Coral Springs, a scrap metal business in Pompano, and even a Whole Foods market and CVS Pharmacy.

Arrests were initiated last year in Rockland County in early December with the conclusion of their own separate investigation which separately went on for over a year. At the time, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said that they were “taking in millions of dollars a month” and continued by saying that “the investigation uncovered evidence that the enterprise had links to organized crime.”

In the South Florida connection all the men are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, varying counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, and the unlawful use of two-way communication devices to facilitate a felony. All have been saddled with bond in excess of one hundred thousand dollars with Capolongo’s topping off at $1 million. Coming in second in the high-bond lottery was Michael Dangelo of Pompano Beach who had additional charges of drug trafficking and possession of cocaine and oxycodone which raised the amount of his bond to $777,000.

The Broward Sherriff’s Office said that the operation was foiled by texts and phone wiretaps, surveillance, along with cooperating witnesses and defendants as well as videotaped recordings of live transactions, and the hard work of their undercover deputies.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Gina Carter mentioned that “this is an ongoing investigation and we anticipate several more key players will be arrested in coming weeks.”

Four of the men who were arrested in Palm Beach County including Capolongo had hearings before a Broward Circuit Court Judge to account for the sources of their bond funds which must have been obtained from legitimate sources. The other three men were Devon Alexander Shalmi, 30, Joseph Petrolino, 47, and Thomas Cuce, 32. But for now the four remain in custody. All the men arrested live in the immediate neighborhoods of West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Parkland, Margate and Coral Springs in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The others arrested were Allan Klein, and his son Darren, Michael Dangelo, and Erik Bishop.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel commented on the workings of the criminal enterprise by saying “Criminal networks like these may not seem dangerous to the public… but it is activity such as this that leads to violence and fuels organized crime throughout the country.”

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