A Bank of America investment officer and five other persons have been charged with laundering $36 million in suspected drug proceeds through three California financial institutions, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday.
A federal grand jury in San Diego charged Guillermina Watson, 55, and five other southern Californians with conspiracy and currency reporting violations. The government said the defendants, three of them Colombians, handled the deposits to conceal the identities of suspected drug traffickers in South America and the United States who were providing the money.
Watson and three other defendants have been arrested and pleaded not guilty. Watson, who works at Bank of America's branch in suburban Coronado, is free on $100,000 bond.
She and four of the defendants were to receive 5 percent of the laundered money, which allegedly was funneled to persons in the United States, Colombia and Panama, according to the indictment and a Customs Service affidavit. More than $6.5 million was put directly into Bank of America accounts controlled by the defendants, the indictment said.
Bank of America has cooperated with the probe and there is no indication that any other employes were involved, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based bank said yesterday.
The case was developed by the government's organized crime task force on drugs. The probe involved wiretaps on pay telephones used by the defendants, the Customs affidavit said.
Starting 14 months ago, the defendants moved nearly $30 million through the Blue House Financial Inc., a currency exchange in San Ysidro, Calif., the indictment said. It said checks from the exchange were then deposited in accounts at Bank of America and California Commerce Bank in San Diego in the names of people who did not own the currency.
The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego said it has seized $651,000 in bank accounts and another $20,000 from the defendants' homes.
Also named in the indictment are Beatriz Mejia Connick, Margeurite de Connick, Cecilia Mejia Rojo, Christian Galindo and Pablo Galindo-Cabrer. If convicted, defendants faces up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $750,000.
In January, the Treasury Department levied a record $4.75 million fine against Bank of America for 17,000 violations of the federal law that requires banks to report all cash transactions above $10,000. The previous record was a $2.25 million fine against Crocker National Bank of San Francisco. The Bank of Boston pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge involving currency reports and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine.