Couple admits cartel-linked money laundering scheme
HACKENSACK, N.J. — A Bergen County, N.J., couple faces up to 20 years in prison after admitting their role in a money laundering operation that catered to heroin traffickers linked to Mexican drug cartels.
Jong H. Park and Jung Y. Choi, who were also known by the aliases “Rafa” and “Tina,” ran the money laundering business from a two-story residence at 522 Closter Dock Road in Closter, N.J.
They traveled from Massachusetts to Maryland, picking up satchels of cash and moved the money through various business and personal bank accounts before wiring it to co-conspirators in the United States, Mexico, South Korea and China, collecting a commission for their work, authorities said.
Park and Choi were arrested in July 2012 after an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into a heroin distribution ring based in Boston.
They pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court in Newark, N.J., to a single count of money laundering conspiracy, admitting that between January 2010 and June 2012 they conducted financial transactions designed to conceal the source of drug money and to avoid federal reporting requirements.
The couple did business with money brokers and heroin traffickers linked to the La Familia and Sinaloa drug cartels in Mexico, the DEA said in court documents.
In August 2011, DEA agents followed a vehicle from the home of a drug suspect in the Hyde Park section of Boston to Fort Lee, N.J., where the suspect met with Park on Hudson Terrace and gave him a bag of cash. In the weeks after their rendezvous, Park made a series of “structured” bank deposits totaling more than $159,000 in amounts under $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements.
In November 2011, Choi met with a member of the drug ring in Boston. She was later recorded telling Park that she brought back $167,710.
Choi also made trips in her Lexus GX that month to Baltimore, picking up $425,575 in cash, and to Philadelphia, where she collected $595,360, authorities said.
In December 2011, Park met in the lobby of an East Rutherford, N.J., hotel with two undercover agents who were posing as money brokers and launderers to coordinate the delivery of $650,000 in drug proceeds to be laundered by the agents, authorities said.
The following day, Park transferred two duffel bags stuffed with bundles of cash to one of the agents in the parking lot of the Linwood Plaza in Fort Lee.
During the course of the conspiracy, the DEA said Park and Choi retrieved or delivered about $4 million in drug proceeds in the form of bulk money to be laundered and structured cash deposits of about $2.4 million.
As part of their plea deals, Park and Choi agreed to forfeit their interest in the Closter property; $200,000 in drug money that was seized from Choi during a traffic stop, $13,000 seized from Park, and $100,000 representing proceeds or profits of the offense.
U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares set sentencing for Oct. 9.
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