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Tijuana Councilman Money Laundering Criminal Case Understanding a White-Collar Criminal Offense in San Diego
Luis Torres Santillan was arrested in December of 2016 at the border of California and Mexico and charged with ten counts of money laundering. Torres is Tijuana Councilman, which he served sixteen days on before he was arrested, and he has a home in Coronado. He is dual citizenship and he is the general manager of “Productos Diamond,” a family operated Tijuana business that imports rice, beans and lentils from different parts of the world and sells them in Mexico. The Deputy District attorney said he was not allowed to say much about the case, but, he did say “investigators believe that proceeds from illegal activity are being smuggled from Mexico into the United States, and then deposited into banks in the United States and then wired back into Mexico.” In a more recent interview, he made a statement “alleging that Torres opened a shell company in San Diego, Towers Trading and Transport, Inc., whose U.S. bank accounts were used to launder funds that were the proceeds of drug trafficking. Also, between July 2015 and July 2016, their organization made 18 deposits on behalf of Torres totaling about $675,000.” It is also noted that money was being deposited in American banks and then instantly being transferred back to Mexico. Originally the bail amount was set at $5 million but it was reduced and Torres is currently out on bail after his hearing on January 3rd. San Diego attorney, Anthony Colombo, is representing Torres. There are twelve suspects in this case.
The relevant statute for money laundering is California Penal Code §186, which became effective more recently in October of 2011. It is longer more comprehensive statute that states, Any person who conducts or attempts to conduct a transaction or more than one transaction within a seven-day period involving a monetary instrument or instruments of a total value exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or a total value exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) within a 30-day period, through one or more financial institutions (1) with the specific intent to promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, or carrying on of any criminal activity, or (2) knowing that the monetary instrument represents the proceeds of, or is derived directly or indirectly from the proceeds of, criminal activity, is guilty of the crime of money laundering. The aggregation periods do not create an obligation for financial institutions to record, report, create, or implement tracking systems or otherwise monitor transactions involving monetary instruments in any time period.
Cal. Penal Code. § 186.10. Based on the limited facts given in the article it would seem as if section (1) and (2) would be applicable to Torres the case because the prosecution alleges the money stems from drug trafficking. In addition, it involves sending money to United States banks and then Mexico banks. The elements that are required to prove money laundering are as follows, (1) Conducting, or attempting to conduct a transaction through a financial institution. (2) The amount must be five thousand dollars or more in a seven-day span or twenty-five thousand in a thirty-day span. And (3) The defendant intended to promote criminal activity with the financial transaction, or knew the funds involved in the transaction came from criminal activity. Thus, money laundering has three elements, which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The first applicable element is, conducting, or attempting to conduct a transaction through a financial institution. A financial institution essentially means a bank. Transaction entails, making a deposit, withdrawing money, initiating an electronic or wire transfer, exchanging money into foreign currency, or writing a check. Here, the facts state that the Defendant, Torres, would collect money in Mexico and “smuggle” it across the United States border to deposit in a United States bank to then transfer it back to a Mexico bank. It was also said that the evidence shows that Torres made eighteen deposits from July 2015 to July 2017. Because Torres used banks and made deposits he has fulfilled this element. In addition, because Torres made eighteen deposits in one year it shows that he used a finical institution regularly. However, it seems as if almost anyone would fulfill this element because most people use banks to keep their money protected or for their investments. In addition, writing a check could even count for this element, so theoretically everyone could fulfill this requirement. Also, Torres was not making deposits every day, it was more like once every three weeks which does not seem like out of the ordinary. Thus, because Torres used a finical institution the first element is fulfilled.
The second element amount must be five thousand dollars or more in a seven-day span or twenty-five thousand in a thirty-day span. This applies to the certain minimum amount of money; the amount must be equal to, or greater than the requirement, also, it can be multiple transactions, it does not have to be one lump sum. Here, the facts state that the eighteen deposits grand total was about $675,000. Because the requirement is twenty-five thousand in a thirty-day span, this element is fulfilled since there is no way it can be less than the required amount since it is such a large sum of money. The monthly average would be about fifty-six thousand dollars which are over double the requirement according to the law. Thus, the second element required for money laundering would be fulfilled.
The last element the prosecution would have to prove is that the defendant intended to promote criminal activity with the financial transaction, or knew the funds involved in the transaction came from criminal activity. The legal definition of money laundering has specific intent or knowledge as one of its key elements. This means that you are not guilty of money laundering if you unknowingly initiated a banking transaction that turned out to be connected with a crime. Cal. Penal Code. § 186.10. Here, the prosecution would have to show that Torres knew the funds involved in the transaction came from criminal activity. Because there is nothing showing that this is present this is the prosecution’s weakest element. Thus, lack of intent is Torres’s best defense.
An applicable defense to money laundering would state that Torres did not intend to promote or support crime activity or using the money for these transactions that originally came from criminal activity. This very possible because he has a high position in a company that deals with a lot of money daily. In addition, it is possible that Torres does not know exactly where the money is coming from because he is not the owner of the company or necessarily involved with that aspect of the company. If the drug trafficking allegations are true. It would seem very reasonable that a person in his position just signs off on checks as they come across his table. If we looked at the outside circumstances it was said that Torres comes from a prominent Tijuana family and has no criminal history at 37 years old. It would seem odd for a man with an affluent background and no criminal history to be laundering money that stems from drug smuggling. Thus, Torres’s lack of intent to promote criminal activity is a relevant defense, which would not fulfill the third element.
The penalty one faces for money laundering is more diverse sentence than most crimes, because it is what known as a “wobbler.” This means that the crime can be considered a misdemeanor or felony. If money laundering is charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties include; up to one year in county jail; and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars. However, a felony sentence can result of four years in state prison, and a $250,000 fine or twice the money laundered but not exceeding $500,000. Cal. Penal Code. § 186.10. (c). In Torres’s situation, he is charged with ten counts money laundering. This would be the felony charge.
Thus, money laundering has three applicable elements and Torres’s best defense would be his lack of intent.
If you have questions regarding white-collar criminal charges in San Diego County, please feel free to contact San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Vik Monder at 619-405-0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney