A high-flying couple from Paraguay were arrested by the FBI on Thursday at a hotel in Newark, N.J., near Liberty International Airport and charged with running a money laundering operation for purported narco-traffickers.
Cynthia Elizabeth Tarragó, 40, a former member of the Paraguayan Congress who was running to be mayor of Asunción, the nation’s capital, and her husband, Raimundo Va, 44, appeared in U.S. District Court in Trenton on Friday. They were charged with participating in an international money laundering conspiracy. U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois H. Goodman ordered both to be held without bail.
“As alleged in the complaint, Tarragó, a former member of Paraguay’s legislature, brazenly offered to launder the proceeds of international drug trafficking, and even went so far as to offer to traffic in cocaine herself,” said U. S. Attorney Craig Carpenito. “When we stop this kind of money laundering activity, we help to stop the underlying drug trafficking activity that motivates and depends on it.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Tarragó and Va agreed to accept at least $2 million from undercover agents who purported to be narcotics traffickers. The couple agreed to launder the funds, taking a 15% fee, through an international network of financial accounts to disguise the unlawful source of the proceeds.
Tarragó and Va traveled to New Jersey and Florida on several occasions and accepted about $800,000 in cash from the purported drug traffickers. On multiple occasions, Tarragó offered “to assist them with procuring large quantities of cocaine from Paraguay at an inexpensive price,” according to court documents.
During a drive last November from a New York City hotel to Jersey City, Tarragó and Va regaled the undercover agents with stories about how cheap cocaine and marijuana were in Paraguay. The couple told one of the undercover agents that they could get the drugs out of Paraguay, but told the man they believed was a narco-trafficker that he would need to get the drugs into the United States. Later in the conversation, the couple admitted they had a network that could import the drugs into the U.S., according to charging documents filed in Trenton.
The undercover agents collected hours of video and audio recordings documenting their interactions with the couple, which included details about the money laundering network. They also obtained tens of thousands of chat messages that spelled out the operations of the laundering ring.
The investigation found that a third participant, Rodrigo Alvarenga Paredes, 33, was a high-ranking member of a large money-exchange company in Paraguay and coordinated the laundering of the supposed dirty money. Alvarenga, who was charged in U.S. District Court, remains at large in Paraguay.