The United States sentenced a Mexico businessman for laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds for the Zetas criminal organization, concluding a long and cumbersome judicial process that demonstrates the challenges of prosecuting money laundering cases.
Francisco Antonio Colorado-Cessa was sentenced in an Austin, Texas, courthouse to 20 years in federal prison on charges of money laundering and bribery, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a March 23 press release.
In December 2015, a federal jury convicted Colorado-Cessa of laundering millions of drug dollars for the Zetas by purchasing, breeding and training race horses in the United States. In January 2016, the Mexican businessman was convicted of conspiracy to bribe a judge with $1.2 million in order to receive a lower sentence.
Colorado-Cessa was first found guilty in 2013 on similar charges, but in May 2015 the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his money laundering conviction due to a technical error in the legal proceedings. In October, the same appeals court ruled Colorado-Cessa could retract his guilty plea for bribery and ordered a retrial.
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“Today’s resentencing of Francisco Colorado-Cessa to 20 years in prison is confirmation that the American public is steadfast in their conviction that he was properly found guilty of money laundering and bribery the first time,” said Special Agent William Cotter of the Internal Revenue Service.
US prosecutors have also alleged that in 2004, a leader of the Zetas provided Colorado-Cessa with a multi-million dollar loan to help his oil services business ADT Petroservicios. The company, which was blacklisted by the US Treasury Department in August 2012, has reportedly received over $100 million in contracts from Mexico’s state-run oil giant Pemex.
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The legal wrangling surrounding Colorado-Cessa’s multiple trials illustrates the challenges involved in prosecuting money laundering cases. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence and the high profile nature of a scandal that was deeply embarrassing to the US and Mexico, it took prosecutors nearly four years to conclude the case — that is, assuming there are no further appeals or overturned convictions.
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Colorado-Cessa was a natural fit to act as the legal operator for the Zetas’ money laundering scheme. His company’s contracts with Pemex were a big advantage to a criminal organization that has benefited greatly from oil theft over the years. And the Zetas had shown signs of moving beyond simply tapping oil pipelines, such as when members of the group were found operating a Pemex-owned well in 2010. But Colorado-Cessa gave them something better: a legal avenue to the spigot via contractor.
That, however, was a different era in Mexico’s underworld. The arrests stemming from the horse racing scandal were just one of several major blows inflicted on the Zetas around that time, who also saw several leaders either captured or killed by Mexican security forces. Although the criminal group remains operational at least in name, they are increasingly fragmented and no longer represent the regional threat they once did.