Feds raid LA’s Fashion District in drug money laundering probe, 2 Koreans arrested

September 10, 2014
Law enforcement agents check a clothing store during a raid in the Los Angeles Fashion District Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. U.S. agents raided dozens of businesses in the fashion district of Los Angeles early Wednesday as part of an investigation into suspected money laundering done for Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut )

Law enforcement agents check a clothing store during a raid in the Los Angeles Fashion District Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. U.S. agents raided dozens of businesses in the fashion district of Los Angeles early Wednesday as part of an investigation into suspected money laundering done for Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut )

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Hundreds of federal agents swarmed through the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District today, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million as part of a crackdown on what prosecutors called a sophisticated operation to launder money for Mexican drug cartels.

The raids coincided with the unsealing of three federal indictments, one of which alleged that a Fashion District business was laundering ransom money payments made to secure the release of a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped and tortured in Mexico by the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Federal prosecutors said other Fashion District stores were being used to launder money from drug traffickers and other offenders in what is known as a “Black Market Peso Exchange” scheme.

“Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Dugdale. “Because Los Angeles is at the forefront of this money-laundering activity, law enforcement in Los Angeles is now at the forefront of combating this issue.”

Prosecutors said three people were arrested in connection with the alleged laundering of ransom money paid to the Sinaloa cartel. According to a federal indictment, a business called QT Fashion accepted bulk amounts of cash and funneled it through 17 other Fashion District businesses at the direction of a Mexico-based business called Maria Ferre S.A. de C.V.

The $140,000 in ransom was paid by relatives of a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped by the Sinaloa cartel after U.S. authorities seized more than 100 kilograms of cocaine the man had been responsible for distributing. The man was taken to a ranch in Mexico, where he was beaten, shot, electrocuted and water-boarded, according to federal prosecutors. The man was released after the ransom was paid, officials said.

Andrew Jong Hack Park, 56, of La Canada Flintridge; Sang Jun Park, 36, of La Crescenta; and Jose Isabel Gomez Arreoloa, 49, of Los Angeles; were arrested in connection with the QT Fashion case, according to prosecutors.

Three other defendants named in the indictment — all of Mexico — remain at large.

Three members of a Temple City family — Xilin Chen, 55; his son, Chuang Feng Chen, 24; and his daughter, Aixia Chen, 28 — were named in a second indictment accusing them of money laundering through Fashion District businesses called Yili Underwear and Gayima Underwear. Xilin Chen and Chuang Chen were both arrested this morning, but Aixia Chen remains at large.

Four people connected to a business called Pacific Eurotex Corp. were named in a third indictment, accusing them of money-laundering. The indictment alleges the defendants used the company as a repository to receive bulk amounts of cash that they knew or believed to be drug money, and laundered the funds.

Arrested in that case were Hersel Nemen, 55, of Beverly Hills, the company’s CFO; Morad Neman, 54, of Westwood, the CEO; Mehran Khalili, 45, of Beverly Hills; and Alma Villalobos, 52, of Arleta. The Nemans are brothers, and Khalili is their brother-in-law, prosecutors said.

During the raids, authorities seized $65 million, some in cash and some from around the world, prosecutors said.

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