Fashion District businesses targeted in cartel money-laundering busts

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Federal authorities on Wednesday shut down alleged money-laundering schemes they said was being operated by international drug cartels in the heart of the Fashion District, including one linked to the kidnap, torture and ransom of a U.S. citizen.

The Fashion District stores acted as middlemen in the "Black Market Peso Exchange" (BMPE), according to officials. The cartels bought merchandise from the stores at grossly inflated prices. The businesses in turn then shipped the items to businesses they have trade partnerships with in Mexico.

"They send their goods down then to the Mexican business they have a trade partnership with. That Mexican business then sells the goods, and the proceeds from those sales, in the form of pesos, then go to the drug-trafficker," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Dugdale.

The Sinaloa Drug Cartel was named as one of the organizations involved. The cartel allegedly used wholesaler QT Fashion Inc. as a headquarters to launder ransom money for a kidnapped U.S. citizen who was held hostage at a Mexican ranch, where he was beaten, shot, electrocuted and water-boarded. The individual was allegedly responsible for distributing more than 100 kilograms of cocaine, which was seized by U.S. authorities. He was eventually released after his family paid $140,000 to the cartel.

Mexican business Maria Ferre S.A. de C.V., allegedly funneled bulk cash through 17 other Fashion District businesses.

Approximately $65 million was seized in cash and from bank accounts around the world.

Three people were arrested in connection to the ransom money-laundering scheme. La Canada-Flintridge resident Andrew Jong Hack Park, 56; La Crescenta resident Sang Jun Park Sang Jun Park, 36; and L.A. resident Jose Isabel Gomez Arreolaoa, 49, were arrested as part of the QT Fashion enterprise.

Three Mexican national suspects related to the Maria Ferre enterprise are still at large: Luis Ignacio Orozco Munoz, 50; Armando Arturo Chavez Gamboa, 43; Daisy Corrales Estrada, 30.

In a second money-laundering case related to the Fashion District, three members of a Temple City family, Xilin Chen, 55; Chuang Feng Chen, 24; and Aixia Chen, 28, were charged with money laundering charges. Xilin Chen and Chuang Chen were arrested. Aixia Chen is a fugitive currently being sought by authorities. They are alleged to have laundered money to drug-trafficking organizations outside the U.S. using the BMPE scheme through Yili Underwear and Gayima Underwear businesses.

In a third case, a Fashion District business called Pacific Eurotex Corp. and four connected individuals were charged with various money-laundering charges. Pacific Eurotex was allegedly used as a repository to receive bulk drug-related cash. Hersel Neman, 55 of Beverly Hills; Morad Neman, 54, of Westwood; Mehran Khalili, 45, of Beverly Hills; and Alma Villalobos, 52, of Arleta were arrested in that case.

About 1,000 law enforcement officials participated in Wednesday's raids.

"The work that has been produced today is a result of many months, almost two years of collaborative work between law enforcement leaders from local, state and federal agencies," said California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Agents say as their investigation continues they expect to make more arrests.

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