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Nearly two dozen players named in major scheme to wash drug money in Miami, officials say

By Andrew V. Pestano and Doug G. Ware
Twenty two arrest warrants were announced by Miami authorities on Thursday for associates of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a suspected Mexican drug lord. The associates, most of whom are fugitives, are wanted in connection with a massive money laundering scheme officials say ran through South Florida. Photo courtesy of Mexico's Attorney General
Twenty two arrest warrants were announced by Miami authorities on Thursday for associates of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a suspected Mexican drug lord. The associates, most of whom are fugitives, are wanted in connection with a massive money laundering scheme officials say ran through South Florida. Photo courtesy of Mexico's Attorney General

MIAMI, April 7 (UPI) -- Miami authorities on Thursday announced nearly two dozen arrest warrants for associates aligned with drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman -- all of whom were allegedly involved in an underground drug money-laundering scheme.

Nearly a dozen Miami-Dade businesses are linked to the operations, which investigators say moved millions of dollars in illegal cocaine profits to Colombia.

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Prosecutors announced arrest warrants for 22 individuals -- some of whom have been taken into custody and some still at large.

"The organization we are attacking today was capable of laundering approximately $1 million per month through businesses just in the Miami area," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

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"They use Miami's strong international economy as the actual funnel all of their international money-laundering operations. ... We are surely the global hub for money laundering."

Three of the suspects were arrested in Miami this week, one in Boston and one in Colombia, officials said.

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"The drug trafficking organizations in question were operating throughout the United States, but they used Miami's strong international economy as the actual funnel for all of their money laundering operations," Rundle added.

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Most of those sought are still fugitives, officials said.

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Thursday's announcement follows a two-year investigation, called Operation Neymar, conducted by agents with the U.S. Homeland Security Department, Miami-Dade police and Florida prosecutors.

The money-laundering system -- called the "black market peso exchange" -- is a drug-fueled, underground lending system that officials believe is used by hundreds of South Florida businesses.

Among those arrested linked to the Miami-Dade operations is Juan Manuel Alvarez Inzunza, who allegedly laundered about $4 billion in the past 10 years for Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.

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Police said Inzunza -- nicknamed "El Rey Midas" or "King Midas" -- laundered between $300 million and $400 million a year from the Guzman's cartel through a network of companies and currency exchange centers in Mexico, the United States, Colombia and Panama.

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The scheme involves Mexican cartels buying Colombian drug products on credit, and then sell them through the Americas before finally paying the Colombian operatives back in U.S. currency. That cash would then be converted to Colombian pesos by selling those dollars to Colombian businesses that receive better exchange rates than the legitimate currency exchange marketplace.

Investigators said Operation Neymar has netted authorities about $1 million in cash.

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