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Homeland Security

01 April 2005

Arrest Made in Case Involving Colombian, Mexican Drug Rings

United States apprehends fugitive as part of major money-laundering probe

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. agents have arrested a long-time fugitive for his alleged role in a money-laundering scheme that involved Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said in a March 30 statement that Frank Alfonso, 60, had been a fugitive since being indicted in 1998 for allegedly serving as a "money runner" (courier) for Mexico's Juarez cartel.  Alfonso was arrested in Miami.

ICE said Alfonso was indicted in a U.S. undercover investigation called "Operation Casablanca."  The operation is considered the largest investigation of drug-money laundering in U.S. history, said ICE, which is the largest investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Launched in 1995, the investigation targeted professional money launderers for Colombia's Cali drug cartel and Mexico's Juarez drug cartel, as well as numerous Mexican and Venezuelan bankers who helped launder drug proceeds.

Operation Casablanca ultimately resulted in the seizure of more than $100 million and the arrest of more than 160 individuals, including dozens of Mexican and Venezuelan bankers.  Criminal indictments were also brought against three of Mexico's largest banks.

Alfonso is the third fugitive arrested in recent months as a result of Operation Casablanca.

In February, ICE agents arrested Juan Medina, another accused money runner for the Juarez cartel, as he returned to the United States from a cruise to Ensenada, Mexico.  U.S. customs agents identified Medina from a routine screening of the cruise ship's passenger manifest.

In January, authorities in Mexico announced the capture of one of the kingpins in the case, Jose Alvarez-Tostado.  Alvarez, who was believed to be the Juarez cartel's financial manager, allegedly collected and laundered millions of dollars from the organization's drug sales in cities across the United States. He is awaiting extradition from Mexico to the United States.

ICE said Alvarez is one of its 10 most wanted fugitives and was designated as a foreign narcotics kingpin by the U.S. government in June 2001.  The 1999 Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act gives U.S. Treasury officials the authority to freeze assets of suspected drug traffickers.

ICE Assistant Secretary Michael Garcia called the arrest of Alvarez a "crucial victory" for U.S. and Mexican law enforcement in their efforts to combat the laundering of drug money.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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