ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – Ana Bella Sanchez-Rios, the former owner and operator of a Martinsville business used to launder more than $4.3 million in profits for an international drug cartel, was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court to 96 months in federal prison. Sanchez-Rios laundered the funds for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), a Mexican-based criminal organization considered by the Department of Justice to be one of the most dangerous transnational organizations in the world. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar, Special Agent in Charge Jarod A. Forgot of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Washington Division, and Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Washington, D.C. Field Office announced the sentence.
“When individuals launder money for a drug cartel, they play critical role for the organization by concealing and transferring illegally-obtained funds, which perpetuates the cartel’s illegal activity and the scourge of the narcotics the cartel pedals,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar. “Money laundering investigations can be particularly difficult, and I’m proud of the hard work of our federal and state law enforcement partners in bringing Sanchez-Rios to justice.”
“Drug cartels like CJNG perpetrate unspeakable violence across the globe and drive the spread of deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin,” said Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Washington Division. “We are committed to working with our partners to shut down these violent organizations in our area, often by tracking their illicit proceeds and disrupting these organizations at their bottom line. Today, these criminals’ addiction to money and greed has met its consequence.”
Sanchez-Rios, 48, was indicted in March 2019 along with 12 members of CJNG on a variety of federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges. In June 2020, Sanchez-Rios pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating a business that transmitted criminally derived funds.
Sanchez-Rios owned and operated Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market, a business that contracted with Intermex Wire Transfer, LLC. Sanchez-Rios admitted that from 2016 through 2018, she used the business to launder the drug trafficking proceeds on behalf of CJNG. Sanchez-Rios’ role was to receive U.S. currency from multiple individuals working for the CJNG, which she knew were the drug trafficking proceeds and derived from a criminal offense. Sanchez-Rios then wired that money to individuals in Mexico. The defendant conducted wire transfers in small amounts and falsified and fabricated the names and addresses of the senders in order to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the funds.
In total, between May 10, 2016 and September 11, 2018, Sanchez-Rios transferred or caused to be transferred $4,394,959 in the proceeds of drug trafficking via Intermex from Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market in Martinsville to individuals in Mexico.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security-Homeland Security Investigations, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, and the Virginia State Police. Assistant United States Attorney Sean Welsh is prosecuting the case for the United States.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.