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Sinaloa Cartel Money Laundering in Los Angeles Part 2: Precious Gems & Platini Jeans

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“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

Part 2 of a Series Looking into Money Laundering Operations Out of Southern California tied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Each week Borderland Beat will analyze and investigate links between legitimate businesses and fronts as well as underground money transfers including crypto and black market peso exchange systems. Southern California has long been one of the key territories of the Sinaloa Cartel not only for drug distribution, but for laundering and funneling back the profits back to Mexico and elsewhere to fund further operations. Read Part 1 Here

Part 2 Trade-Based Money Laundering

Another method of moving drug proceeds employed by the Sinaloa Cartel and other organizations is the ‘Black Market Peso Exchange’ also termed ‘Trade Based Money Laundering.’ This is a system of value transfer as opposed to the transfer of currency (including goods and services) that exploits legitimate businesses and other trading systems to launder the proceeds of illegal activity. 

This method can help not only conceal the origins of of the cash, but prevent the need to move money across borders and allow various front companies or legitimate businesses to conduct and profit from seemingly normal business transactions. Another advantage is the ability to more easily receive goods from the United States that may not be as readily accessible to cartel members in Mexico.
Less formal Trade-Based Money Laundering methods are often used as part of the drug trafficking and distribution processes to cover costs of warehouses, businesses, stash houses, transportation and other goods and services.

Operation Fortune Runner

Another layer of the money laundering network exposed during the Operation Fortune Runner investigations is that of the money brokers that act as consolidators. Working as a type of informal bank pooling together drug proceeds to facilitate money laundering on larger scales.

These brokers and money consolidators seek out businesses or individuals in other countries who purchase merchandise in the United States and need US dollars to pay for that merchandise. The Chinese nationals in the San Gabriel Valley area initiated transactions to a Chinese bank controlled by a money laundering broker.

Then the money laundering group used that money to purchase goods in places like China; such as electronics, clothing and precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl and methamphetamines. After the Chinese sent those purchased goods to Mexico, the items were then sold or used by the cartel, and their proceeds eventually used to pay for additional drugs being shipped to U.S., according to U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada.

San Diego Jewelers

A footnote in the recent 10-count superseding indictment against money laundering networks in the Los Angeles area was that of a long time jeweler based in San Diego, California who was charged with using drug proceeds in the U.S. to buy up precious metals and gems via black market sources. Those goods were then brought to Mexico and sold locally for Mexican pesos in order to reimburse the Sinaloa Cartel members involved.
On August 24, 2021, in Baldwin Park, California, defendant Oscar Eduardo Mayorga delivered approximately $249,500 of drug trafficking proceeds in U.S. currency to Bernardo Mauberis. According to the indictment, Mauberis would usually get a small commission of 0.5% to 1.5% of the total amounts laundered.
The indictment does not list a company or jewelry store that Mauberis was involved with and/or laundered the money through. However, based on his various social media profiles and business listings; Bernardo has been an owner of various jewelry companies in the San Diego area including Mauberis & Sons, Inc.
Undated photos of Bernardo Mauberis and his likely wife.
Bernardo’s various social media profiles advertise investments and peso exchanges.
In March 2024, a month prior to the latest superseding indictment, a Texas based company A V Diamonds filed a contract breaching suit against Mauber & Sons, Inc. The registered business address for Mauberis & Sons, Inc. was an address at the Las Americas Outlet Mall in San Ysidro, California, an outlet mall just north of the Mexican border. 
The Centario Jewelry and Coinshop was also located at that same address, owned by Bernardo Mauberis.
One of Bernardo’s sons, Fabian Mauberis, currently runs a jewelry store in the same outlet mall and other locations. SD Jewelers opened their flagship store location in the Las Americas Plaza in San Ysidro. 

As of May 2024, the SD Jewelers location is now Mauber Jewelry, and still ran by son Fabian Mauberis according to Yelp reviews and business records.
In 2019, SD Jewelers opened a small store inside the Plaza Bonita mall in National City. SD Diamonds Inc. was registered in June 2020 doing business as SD Jewelers and later Mauber Jewelry was registered in early 2024.

According to their website, “SD Jewelers is a San Diego based Company which initially began in 2018. Since then, the Company has expanded and grown to have three locations in San Diego County. We are a family owned business with the focus on customer care and professional services. Our background of Jewelry experience in our family is over 70 combined years, from Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico and now in the United States of America.”

Fabian Mauberis of SD Jewelers

Interestingly, the mailing address listed for Fabian Mauberis and SD Diamonds Inc. is a Postal Annex mailbox in Chula Vista. The location of that Postal Annex is just one block from the location of the Chili’s restaurant where allegedly the shooting of James “El Apache” Bryant Corona took place on March 26, 2024.

Platini Jeans

Late last year, a federal judge fined a Paramount, California based clothing company $4,000,000 and ordered them to pay over $6,000,000 in restitution for a scheme that undervalued clothing imported from China in order to avoid paying millions in customs duties. 

According to court documents, Ghacham Inc. imported clothing from China and submitted fraudulent invoices to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that undervalued the shipments, allowing the company to avoid paying the full amounts of tariffs owed on the imports.

At Mohamed Ghacham’s direction, Chinese suppliers would prepare two invoices for the clothing ordered by Ghacham Inc. – a true invoice, which reflected the actual price paid for the goods, and a fraudulent “customs invoice,” which reflected an understated price. Ghacham Inc. submitted the customs invoices to CBP and customs brokers to fraudulently reduce the tariffs owed on the imports, while it maintained the true invoices in its accounting records.

From July 2011 and February 2021, Ghacham Inc. and Mohamed Ghacham undervalued imported garments by more than $32 million and failed to pay approximately $6,390,792 in customs duties.

The fraudulent scheme wasn’t the only charge that the company, Ghacham, Inc, that does business in the Los Angeles area as Platini pleaded guilty to. The company also pleaded guilty in December 2022 to one count of conspiracy to engage in any transaction or dealing in properties of a specially designated narcotics trafficker under a statute known as the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act).

Interestingly enough, this was the first criminal conviction in the Central District of California (which includes the greater Los Angeles Area) under the Kingpin Act.

The only charge the company’s main executive, Mohamed Daoud Ghacham pleaded guilty to was conspiracy to commit fraud. He received 4 years in prison, he was not charged in relation to the Kingpin Act violation.

In addition to imposing financial penalties, Judge Frimpong required Ghacham Inc. to create and maintain an anti-money laundering compliance and ethics program and submit to review by a third-party monitor review, who will report to the court on an annual basis.
A photo from the Platini Jeans website showing their shirts and jeans.
According to their website, the Ghacham brothers come from a family in Lebanon where their father was involved in the retailing industry. “They founded Platini Jeans in Los Angeles and sampled their first full collection during Los Angeles Market Week in 1997. The Ghacham brothers have expanded their empire over the years, adding new items to their ever-growing catalogue like fashion accessories and men’s fragrance. The brothers pledged that Platini Jeans would never compromise quality design for a lower price point – giving men around the world the opportunity to feel and look their very best everyday. The Ghacham brothers are innovators of modern, elite, and affordable fashion, and their products only further prove this.” Ghacham Inc. was registered in May 1997 with various Platini trademarks registered since November 2000. According D&B business records, they have reported annual sales of just under $1 million. Similar to other clothing stores in the area.
They also operate various California corporations including Ghacham Investment Inc., and A&O Property Investment Inc. A lawsuit alleging copyright infringement regarding their denim jeans designs was brought against Ghacham Inc. a few years ago.
Ghacham and Platini was also involved in a 2003 suit against Tres Hermanos Clothing claiming trademark infringement on counterfeit Gianni Versace clothing. The counterfeit Versace items mainly consisted of their Medusa design on collared shirts and designer jeans popular with narco-traffickers. Platini’s computers were seized as part of the lawsuit.
Platini is still operating today and a majority of their clothing is modern Mexican-style western wear including signature high-fashion style jeans, fragrances and gaudy collared shirts. The company operates a large warehouse and retail Platini Jeans Cougar Outlet location in Paramount, California as Project Premium Clothing which has been at that location since at least 2007. 
It was that year that the company was warned by US Treasury officials to cut business ties with a recently sanctioned Mexican businesswoman named María Tiburcia Cazarez Pérez.

Cazares-Salazar Financial Network

On September 26, 2006, the president of Ghacham Inc. and María Cázarez Pérez, via the business Cazper Importaciones, formed the company Platini Jeans Cougar de Mexico, which marketed the Platini México brand.

On December 2007, Cazarez Pérez was sanctioned for her involvement in the financial network of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García and Victor Emilio Cazares Salazar/Gasteluem.

On the day she was blacklisted by the OFAC, law enforcement agents went to Ghacham Inc.’s headquarters to warn them that their partner “was a designated drug trafficker and that the defendant was prohibited by law from doing business with her,” court documents describe.

But from that date until February 2021, the company maintained a financial relationship with Platini Mexico. Ghacham Inc. coordinated the sale of merchandise to Platini Mexico through Chinese apparel supplier LA Fashion Trading which the Ghacham family “exercised considerable control” sharing top executives and offices.

Investigators also detected international wire transfers made by Platini Mexico to LA Fashion’s account at HSBC. From 2016 to 2018, there were 8 wire transfers totaling over $400,000.

When federal agents searched their offices, they found several documents and communications on its computers that exposed its dealings with Platini Mexico, either directly or through LA Fashion. An email to Mohamed Ghacham indicated a wire transfer of $35,000 from a Platini Mexico account to an LA Fashion account in 2017.

A bank statement addressed to “Mari Cazarez” dated February 24, 2021, showed a 2017 balance of $508,395 and that Platini Mexico owed $84,255 to LA Fashion.

Víctor Emilio Cázares Salazar was arrested in Mexico and extradited to the US in 2016. He was sentenced to 15 years in US prison. María Tiburcia Cazarez Pérez and the company Cazper Importaciones that formed the Platini Mexico partnership were removed from the OFAC sanctions list in March 2023. Efrain and Irma Cazarez Pérez were also removed from the sanctions list.

In early 2020, an elaborate wedding took place for one of “El Chapo’s” daughters. Alejandrina Gisselle Guzmán’s husband, Edgar Cazares is the nephew of Blanca Margarita Cazares “La Emperatriz/ Chiquis” who was sanctioned in 2007 for her “sophisticated money-laundering apparatus.” Gisselle trademarked “El Chapo” for use in fashion merchandising in Mexico and debuted the “El Chapo 701″ fashion line at the Intermoda fashion show in Guadalajara in 2019.

Platini and it’s owners, the Ghacham brothers weren’t the only clothing companies in Los Angeles to operate similar import fraud and BMPE schemes. Several companies in Los Angeles’ Fashion District mixed their legitimate clothing businesses with that of drug trafficking money launderers.

C’est Toi Jeans, Inc.and its owners were charged in 2014 with falsifying customs documents to undervalue imported goods by $62 million. The company also would receive large amounts of US currency from drug sales to pay for outstanding merchandising orders from customers in Mexico and elsewhere. They allegedly accepted up to $70,000 in these large cash payments. 

Operation Fashion Police

In 2014, approximately 1,000 law enforcement officials fanned out across the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles to execute dozens of search and arrest warrants linked to dozens businesses suspected of using “Black Market Peso Exchange” (BMPE) schemes to launder drug proceeds.
Apparel was imported into the United States with U.S. dollars provided by the cartels. The clothing is sent to Mexico, where it is sold for pesos deposited in cartel connected bank accounts.
Authorities arrested 9 defendants and seized what is estimated to be at least $100 million in cash and bank deposits. The primary target of Operation Fashion Police was Pacific Eurotex, a wholesale clothing firm, as well as QT Fashion, Inc.
QT Fashion was alleged to be involved with paying ransom money for a kidnapped US citizen. Following the kidnapping of a United States citizen by the Sinaloa Cartel, QT Fashion allegedly accepted bulk cash and funneled the money through 17 other Fashion District businesses at the direction of Maria Ferre, a Mexican based clothing business.
The kidnapping occured after authorities in the U.S. seized more than 100 kilos of cocaine that the victim was responsible for distributing. The victim was held at a ranch in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where he was beaten, shot, shocked and waterboarded. The hostage was released after relatives paid $140,000 in ransom money. The ransom payment left a money trail that the DEA and US Treasury were able to follow back to Maria Ferre’s owner, Luis “Nacho” Ignacio Muñoz Orozco who became a fugitive after the US indictment.

The investigation also led authorities again outside the U.S. to Taiwan. With the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice’s assistance, a bank account containing $15.6 million related to cartel money laundering was frozen.

Part 3 of the ‘Sinaloa Cartel Money Laundering in Los Angeles’ series will include several associated traffickers and their involvement in legitimate businesses including nightclubs and restaurants including those operated by “El Mago” and friends. 

Sources DOJ, DOJ, ICEICE, DOJ, UnivisionBorderland Beat, Borderland Beat, Buzzfeed, Justia


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