For three years, six Passaic County residents used more than 1,000 checks to launder more than $27 million in drug money paid to drug cartels in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, authorities said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito charged the six, who are Passaic and Paterson residents, with laundering drug money, Carpenito said in a statement. Each person was charged with one count of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

The suspects are:

  • Felicia Almonte, 54, Passaic
  • Erickson Checo-Almonte, 29, Passaic
  • Julio De La Cruz-Acosta, 40, Paterson
  • Willy Cruz-Bonilla, 22, Paterson
  • Jordano Abreu-Diaz, 24, Paterson
  • Enmanuel Nunez-Reyes, 26, Paterson

All the suspects except for Abreu-Diaz were scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday afternoon, the statement said. Abreu-Diaz is scheduled for a court hearing later in the week.

From July 2016 to January 2019,  the six orchestrated a money-laundering scheme that used more than 1,000 cashier checks to scrub money they got from drug deals in New York and New Jersey, the statement said. The checks were then written out to people working on behalf of the cartels, with ties to the Dominican Republic, Colombia and elsewhere.

The cashier’s check scheme was designed to conceal the nature, source, ownership, and control of the illegal drug proceeds in order to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement and banking institutions. The defendants were typically paid a fee of $150 to $200 for each check they purchased.

The charge of money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount involved in the offense, whichever is greater. The charge of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Jersey Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Susan A. Gibson; special agents and task force officers of IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John R. Tafur; and the Morristown, New Jersey, police department, under the direction of Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson with the investigation leading to today’s charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan M. Peck of the Criminal Division in Newark.

The suspects are now open to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000, or twice the amount involved in the offense, the statement said.

The charge of money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount involved in the offense, whichever is greater.

Rodrigo Torrejon is a breaking news reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all the major news happening in North Jersey, subscribe here. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.

Email: torrejon@northjersey.com Twitter: @rodrigotorrejon