COMMERCE CITY — The owner of Chopeque Auto Sales and two associated were arrested Tuesday, March 5, following an investigation into money laundering and structuring by the IRS, Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Raul Mendoza, 48, Julia Castillo-Caraveo, 28, both of Denver, and Isidro Noe Mendoza-Ortiz, 25, of Thornton, were taken into custody March 5 after a federal grand jury returned an indictment into the case Feb. 14.
Mendoza was charged with three counts of structuring and three counts of money laundering. Castillo-Caraveo was charged with two counts of structuring and three counts of money laundering. Mendoza-Ortiz was charged with two counts of structuring and two counts of money laundering. If convicted, each count of structuring and money laundering carries a penalty of not more than 10 years in federal prison, and a fine of up to $500,000.
All three are set to appear in court at 10 a.m. Friday, March 8, for a detention hearing and arraignment following an advisement hearing March 5.
During the morning raid on Chopeque, about 20 cars with clear titles were seized from the dealership, according to Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Warrants were also executed at a local residence.
The indictment alleges Mendoza — the owner of Chopeque Auto Sales — and Mendoza-Ortiz conspired from February 2008 to May 2012 to structure cash deposits just under $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements in the amount of more than 700 deposits totaling more than $4.54 million. The indictment alleges the dealership, with the aid of Castillo-Caraveo, failed to file the necessary IRS Form 8300 for reporting transactions in excess of $10,000.
The dealership ultimately ended up selling vehicles to undercover law enforcement officers, who told Mendoza that they were paying with drug money. Specifically, the indictment alleges they sold a 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 for $10,500 in purported drug money, as well as a 2008 Chevy Silverado 1500 for $20,000 in faux drug money. No IRS forms were filed for the transactions.
The indictment goes on to detail how the trio allegedly conspired to launder the money by preparing fake documents related to vehicle sales to known drug dealers and structuring the deposits of the proceeds from the sales.
“Working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we were able to uncover a sophisticated scheme where the defendants hid drug dealing proceeds by laundering the money through the sale of automobiles,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh in a news release about the arrests.
“I applaud the fine work of the investigators and prosecutors who used very innovative techniques to shut down this financial conspiracy facilitating illicit drug trafficking organizations,” said DEA Denver Field Division Special Agent in Charge Barbra M. Roach in the release.
“Drug smugglers use various creative means to launder and conceal their illegal drug profits,” said Kumar C. Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver, in the release. “HSI and our law enforcement counterparts were able to pool our law enforcement authorities and expertise to identify and investigate the significant structured deposits made under the guise of a legitimate car dealership.”