Citizen Tip Leads to Arrests for Drugs and Fugitives

Arrest Reports, Police & Government, Press Release

CHEROKEE COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
SHERIFF DERRICK PALMER
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
For more information call 828.837.2589

CITIZEN TIP LEADS TO ARRESTS FOR DRUGS AND FUGITIVES

Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the November 09th, 2018 arrest of 31 year old Matthew Wondra of Andrews North Carolina and 20 year old Katelyn Helmick of Sylvania Georgia for controlled substance violations and being fugitives from justice. During the evening hours of November 09th, 2018 the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office received information that a female was selling controlled substances at a local convenience store. Deputies went to the area and were able to locate the vehicle that Helmick and Wondra were occupying at the time. During the investigation a search of the vehicle and persons of Helmick and Wondra recovered controlled substances, paraphernalia and US currency. Additionally, a wants and warrant check of both Helmick and Wondra revealed they were wanted in Georgia in connection with a major theft investigation.

Matthew Wondra

Matthew Wondra was arrested and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center where he was incarcerated for PWIMSD METHAMPHETAMINE, MAINTAIN PLACE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, POSSESS SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, EXTRADITION/FUGITIVE OTHER STATE, POSSESS MARIJUANA UP TO 1/2 OZ, SIMPLE POSSESSION SCHEDULE IV CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, POSSESS DRUG PARAPHERNALIA. Wondra is currently free after posting a $30,000.00 secure bond and has a November 29th, 2018 court date.

Katelyn Helmick

Katelyn Helmick was arrested and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center where she was incarcerated for PWIMSD METHAMPHETAMINE, MAINTAIN PLACE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, POSSESS SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE,
EXTRADITION/FUGITIVE OTHER STATE, POSSESS MARIJUANA UP TO 1/2 OZ, SIMPLE POSSESSION SCHEDULE IV CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, POSSESS DRUG PARAPHERNALIA. Helmick is currently being held on a $30,000.00 secure bond and has a November 29th, 2018 court date.

Sheriff Derrick Palmer stated “I want to commend the deputies on this arrest. They were diligent and pursued the investigation and not only took dangerous drugs off the street, but also located wanted fugitives. I would like to add that from this investigation we feel we can follow leads that will further our fight against the distribution of illegal substances in Cherokee County.”

To report suspicious activity and suspect violations of the law please call 828-837-1344 or submit a tip at crime.tips@cherokeecounty-nc.gov.

Multiple Guilty Pleas Expose Ability Of Drug Cartels

State & National

MULTIPLE GUILTY PLEAS EXPOSE ABILITY OF DRUG CARTELS

TO LAUNDER DRUG PROCEEDS THROUGH MONEY REMITTERS

ATLANTA – The last of nine Atlanta-based defendants charged with laundering drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money remitters has pleaded guilty, concluding a three-year long federal investigation targeting professional money launderers that exposed the ability of drug cartels to launder their illicit proceeds through money remittance companies.

“This investigation revealed how drug cartels use remittance companies to fuel their criminal enterprises,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.  “Money remitters have strict rules to follow.  When employees make a decision to ignore those rules, both the employee and money remitter businesses can face prosecution.”

“This case demonstrates the commitment of HSI and our law enforcement partners to dismantle and bring to justice those involved with trying to circumvent our financial laws and help launder illegal drug proceeds,” said ICE HSI Atlanta Acting Special Gregory Wiest.

“Drug cartels are constantly looking for conduits like money service businesses to launder their illicit drug proceeds back to Mexico. We work to dismantle drug organizations by cutting off the money flow back to Mexico, this makes it harder for the drug cartels to operate,” said James Dorsey, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Atlanta Field Office. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to target these money laundering experts by working jointly with our law enforcement partners.”

          According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: In 2014, federal law enforcement agents began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area that were suspected of laundering drug proceeds to Mexico.  Federal agents utilized cooperating sources to infiltrate these individuals’ networks and determined that the money launderers were frequently using small businesses to send drug proceeds to Mexico.  These small businesses offered “money remittance services,” which allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.

Investigators determined that managers and employees of a number of metro-Atlanta remitters were knowingly helping the money launderers send drug proceeds to Mexico.  During the course of this investigation, cooperating sources and an undercover law enforcement officer brought drug proceeds or money that was represented as coming from drug sales to different remitters.  In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different remitters agreed to launder the funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers.  The investigation revealed that nine metro-Atlanta remitters transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe.  The resulting guilty pleas in this case made clear that the bulk of this money came from the sale of illegal narcotics.

Several of the defendants who pleaded guilty actually served as the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (“BSA/AML”) compliance officers for their respective stores and were responsible for detecting and reporting these types of illicit financial transactions.  Instead, these defendants used their anti-money laundering training to help the drug proceeds flow to Mexico undetected.

The recorded undercover transactions that took place during the operation exposed how willing many remitters were to help their customers secretly send drug proceeds to Mexico.  One defendant, who served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, even gave an undercover officer tips on where to sell drugs in Atlanta.  Another defendant, who also served as a store manager and BSA/AML compliance officer, offered to provide a cooperating source help on obtaining fake identifications so that drug proceeds could be transmitted to Mexico undetected.

The following individuals have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and are awaiting sentencing:

  • Oscar Gustavo Perez-Bernal, 35, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Tienda and Cocina Linda Vista, which were both located in Chamblee, Georgia.
  • Itzayana Guadalupe Perez-Bernal, a/k/a Lupe, 24, of Norcross, Georgia, was an employee at La Tienda.
  • Norma Dominguez, 57, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at La Veracruzana, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
  • Norma Carrera, 39, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Hilos y Estambres Teresita, which was located in Chamblee, Georgia.
  • Victor Perez, 31, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Intercargo, which had offices in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Marietta, Georgia.
  • Merli Sandy Tejeda-Bermudez, a/k/a Jorhley Adadlay-Bermudez, 30, of Duluth, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/compliance officer at Mundo Cargo and RR Latinas, which were both located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
  • Daniel Castaneda-Garcia, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, was the manager and BSA/AML compliance officer at Taqueria el Dany, which was located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
  • Lidia Pineda-Altamarino, a/k/a Lily, 33, of Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Additionally, Susan Fiorella Ayala-Chavez, a/k/a Pitus, 30, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in money laundering and has been sentenced to three years, one month in federal prison.  Ayala-Chavez was an employee at the Rainforest Chevron gas station in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

          This case is being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.  The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia State Patrol, and Powder Springs Police Department provided valuable assistance throughout the course of the investigation.

          Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas J. Krepp and Alison B. Prout are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section provided significant assistance.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.

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