TRENTON, N.J. – A Paraguayan man today admitted his role in facilitating an international money laundering conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.
Rodrigo Alvarenga Paredes, 35, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. Paredes previously was charged by complaint with co-defendants Cynthia Tarrago-Diaz and Raimundo Va with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Alvarenga made his initial appearance before Chief Judge Wolfson today and pleaded guilty to the information. He was released pending sentencing.
According to documents filed in this and other cases and statements made in court:
From March 2018 to November 2019, Alvarenga was the owner and operator of a money exchange business in the Republic of Paraguay, which was not licensed or registered to operate as a money transmitting business under the laws of the United States or the state of New Jersey. Until January 2019, Tarrago was a member of Paraguay’s Congress, and in late 2019 had publicly announced her intention to run for mayor of the capital district of Asunción. The investigation revealed that Tarrago and her husband, Va, agreed to accept at least $2 million in United States currency from two individuals who represented themselves to be narcotics traffickers, believing the money to be proceeds of unlawful narcotics trafficking. Tarrago and Va agreed to launder the funds through an international network of accounts in order to disguise the unlawful source of the proceeds.
Tarrago and Va traveled to New Jersey and Florida on multiple occasions and accepted approximately $800,000 in United States currency from the purported drug traffickers, and caused those funds to be transmitted through Alvarenga’s money exchange business; using his unlicensed business, Alvarenga then caused those funds to be transmitted through accounts located in multiple countries and ultimately caused the funds to be transferred back to an account maintained by the purported drug traffickers. To disguise the illicit source of the funds, Tarrago, Va, and Alvarenga coordinated to generate fraudulent invoices that stated legitimate business reasons for the transfers of the laundered funds.
Unbeknownst to Tarrago and Va, the currency that they accepted from the purported drug traffickers was not actually illicit drug proceeds, but was provided by two undercover FBI agents as part of an undercover investigation of the money laundering network. Alvarenga, operating through the auspices of his money-exchange company in Paraguay, facilitated Tarrago’s and Va’s money laundering by causing the undercover funds to be transmitted through his money exchange business and back to the FBI undercover account, knowing that the transactions violated United States laws and regulations.
The unlicensed money transmitting count to which Alvarenga pleaded guilty carries a statutory maximum potential penalty of five years in prison, and a maximum fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary gain that any persons derived from the offense; or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary loss sustained by any victims of the offense whichever is greatest. Tarrago and Va each were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of 33 months. Alvarenga’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 9, 2022.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, Newark Division, Trenton Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jesse Levine, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for its assistance in the case.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys R. Joseph Gribko of the Criminal Division in Trenton and J. Brendan Day, Attorney in Charge of the Trenton Branch Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.