Woman pleads guilty to money laundering

A woman accused of laundering U.S. currency on behalf of two alleged members of the Gulf Cartel, both of whom face drug trafficking charges in Brownsville, pleaded guilty to operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Maria G. Montellano-Moreno appeared before U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. early this month and pleaded guilty to count five of an indictment handed down by a grand jury in May.

Prosecutors originally charged Moreno with three counts, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Montellano-Moreno faces a sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, and a three-year term of supervised release in exchange for her guilty plea. She is set to be sentenced on Dec. 8.

Prosecutors say alleged co-conspirators Marco Antonio Vela-Cardenas (aka “Pelon”) and Jose Luis Cardenas-Hernandez (aka “Chepo”) each face one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Vela-Cardenas is charged with additional counts of operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business and illegal re-entry to the United States.

According to a criminal complaint filed against Montellano-Moreno, agents arrested Vela-Cardenas for his involvement in narcotics trafficking on May 2.

During post-arrest interview, agents stated that he admitted to conspiring with Montellano-Moreno in the laundering of drug proceeds in amounts of $5,000 and $10,000 once a month, for approximately one year.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com