OAKLAND — In the latest federal law enforcement action targeting Bay Area drug trafficking organizations, the owners and employees of two Oakland money transfer businesses have been charged with laundering drug proceeds via wire transfers to Mexico.
Felipe de Jesus Ornelas-Mora, Veronica Mora, Grisela Cancelada-Liceaga, and Yoselin Perez-Ramirez have all been charged with laundering money, a federal offense that carries up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Prosecutors say Ornelas-Mora owned Rincon Musical on International Boulevard; Cancelada-Liceaga, who had earlier worked for Ornelas-Mora as a cashier, owned America Latina on Fruitvale Avenue. Both Mora and Perez-Ramirez worked as cashiers at Rincon Musical, prosecutors say.
The Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration-led investigation concluded that the group was working together to transfer drug proceeds to Mexico and other parts of the United States on behalf of drug traffickers. The group used an identity theft scheme to obscure where the money was coming from and used multiple recipients to avoid law enforcement scrutiny that can come with massive wire transfers, according to the criminal complaint.
The investigation started after two men charged in federal court with drug trafficking identified Rincon Musical as a primary business they would use to send money to the person responsible for smuggling them drugs, who lived in Mexico.
One of the men, identified only as a Honduran national arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs in December 2020, is estimated to have laundered $109,000 in the four months leading to his arrest. He reportedly told authorities he would sometimes arrive with stacks of cash so large they couldn’t fit through the cashier window.
After the tip, authorities sent two confidential informants to Rincon Musical with large amounts of cash to wire to Mexico. One of the informants is described as a person with a DUI conviction, with no other criminal history but seeking U.S. citizenship. The other is described as a drug dealer who is convicted, awaiting sentence, and who lied to investigators about contacting another suspected drug dealer eight times on the phone while the operation was ongoing, according to the complaint.
From January to June, the complaint alleges that Rincon Cashiers charged fees in exchange for conducting wire transfers without checking the confidential informants’ identification cards, then used a company database to access identifying information of random California residents to make it look like the money was coming from those uninvolved parties. For instance, on April 20, 2022, Perez-Ramirez and Mora allegedly used IDs for six people to falsify a $20,000 transfer to Culiacán, Sinaloa.
When Ornelas-Mora was arrested on Aug. 31, he allegedly told authorities “I knew that there were things going on that were bad,” and confirmed his business was being used to launder drug money. Perez-Ramirez said Ornelas-Mora would keep half of the $30 fee they charged for people to make transfers without showing a required ID card, according to the complaint.
All four defendants have been released from jail while the charges are pending, court records show.