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Courier for Mexican cartel pleads guilty to money laundering

The 35-year-old was unknowingly gave money to an undercover law enforcement officer, according to court documents

Police officers inspect the burned wreckage of a bus that was set alight by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel after the detention of one of its leaders by Mexican federal forces. (Fernando Carranza/Reuters)
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A courier working in Virginia for one of the most violent drug cartels in Mexico pleaded guilty to a money-laundering charge on Tuesday.

Jorge Orozco-Sandoval, 35, admitted in federal court in Alexandria that he dropped off nearly $320,000 in three separate installments at a Target store in Front Royal, Va., expecting the funds to be sent to Mexico to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). But he actually handed the bags of money to an undercover law enforcement officer, according to documents filed with his guilty plea.

An undercover law enforcement officer “was in contact with a money broker who purported to work for” the CJNG, according to Orozco-Sandoval’s plea documents. The broker told the undercover officer that a courier would drop off drug proceeds in northwestern Virginia, and that the officer needed “to arrange to deposit the proceeds into a bank account to send them back to the suppliers in Mexico.”

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“This, in turn, would facilitate the ongoing drug trafficking enterprise,” the documents say.

Orozco-Sandoval dropped off $129,100 in June 2021 to a second undercover officer, $94,500 in July 2021 and $96,240 in September 2021, he admitted in the documents. Orozco-Sandoval also distributed cocaine in Virginia, according to a statement of facts filed with his plea.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia had charged him and four others in May with conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Orozco-Sandoval previously served a prison sentence in Maryland for possessing drugs with intent to distribute and was deported to Mexico in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema scheduled Orozco-Sandoval's sentencing for Nov. 29. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

“Despite the fact that CJNG is one of the youngest cartels in Mexico it is considered to be one of, if not, the most powerful and violent cartel in Mexico today,” according to researchers at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. They say the cartel is believed to have more than $20 billion in assets.

Since its formal founding in 2011, the CJNG has been known for its quasi-military tactics, its use of drones and high-powered weapons to attack enemy cartels for control of parts of Mexico, and its propaganda on social media. The Justice Department says it is “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world, responsible for trafficking many tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin into the United States, as well as for violence and significant loss of life in Mexico.”

The organization’s founder and leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or “El Mencho,” is one of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted fugitives. The DEA is offering $10 million for information leading to his capture. His son, Rubén Oseguera González, was extradited to the United States in 2020 to face international drug-trafficking charges and is awaiting trial in federal court in D.C.

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In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced 15 indictments of the cartel’s leaders, financiers, transporters and suppliers.

Orozco-Sandoval’s attorney, Adam M. Krischer, said after the hearing that Orozco-Sandoval pleaded guilty only to a money-laundering charge filed Tuesday. Brinkema said from the bench that Orozco-Sandoval’s admission as part of the plea that he also distributed cocaine in Virginia could lengthen his prison term.