INDITE 2 TEXTILE WORKERS FOR MONEY LAUNDERING
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — A federal grand jury in Brooklyn has indicted two workers at a Manhattan fabric company and a customer of the firm on charges of laundering drug money.
Federal law enforcement agents described the alleged scheme as part of a wave of money laundering at largely cash-driven businesses, such as jewelry and textiles.
The indictment, which was handed down Thursday, charges workers at Adam Mandelblatt & Co., 251 West 39th Street, with participating in the money-laundering operation.
Gina Vizuette, 33, and Teresita Camacho, 50, workers at the fabric company, are charged with conspiring with certain Colombian customers, including Esther Diaz, 46, of Cali, Colombia, who allegedly gave the Mandelblatt employees large quantities of drug cash.
The cash was delivered to the store by drug dealers in Queens and Brooklyn, according to the indictment.
Camacho, working on the customers’ behalf, allegedly would then instruct Vizuette and other employees as to how the narcotics proceeds should be distributed.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, a small portion of the narcotics proceeds was used to pay the customers’ fabric bills at Mandelblatt, but most of the cash was distributed for other purposes.
The indictment charges that cash would be converted into Mandelblatt corporate checks or money orders, or deposited into a bank account for the customer.
The scheme is called “debt replacement,” said Timothy Macht, an assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting the case. It is a complex system that allows Colombians to pay business debts incurred in the U.S. with drug money purchased on the Colombian black market, seeking to avoid the high tax imposed by banks on the exchange of currency.
Camacho and Diaz each face five counts of money-laundering, while Vizuette is charged with two counts, each punishable with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Each defendant is also charged with two counts of illegally structuring financial transactions, with each carrying a sentence of up to 15 years.
Macht said the Drug Enforcement Administration was investigating a drug ring operating in Brooklyn and Queens and monitored a phone conversation between a member of the ring and an employee at Mandelblatt in August 1997, in which the delivery of “37 boxes” to the fabric company was discussed.
The laundering allegedly took place between 1992 and 1998, Macht said.
He would not discuss the volume of money believed to have been trafficked through the firm, but he said investigators found one bank account in the name of a customer in care of Adam Mandelblatt & Co. where $850,000 was deposited over that time.
In the past year, payments totaling $135,000 were made out of that account, he said.
Macht would not comment on whether other companies are under investigation by federal law enforcement or how widespread the practice might be in the garment industry.