To illustrate how easily ordinary white-collar crime turns into a possible Federal money laundering charge, with the maximum sentence of 20 years, I have chosen an interesting case unfolding in court in Miami. Lourdes Cajale, a recently naturalised US citizen of Colombian origin, was working in the Miami office of a Brazilian cattle exporter.
Her duties included paying the company's bills in the ordinary course of business. According to allegations* made by the company, she stole or embezzled funds of a total of $259,000, and unsuccessfully attempted to take an additional $574,000. Here's how she did it:
(1) She wired $161,000, without company authorisation, to a company controlled by a friend, in the Republic of Panama, first alleging that it was her salary, then later denying it. The friend has filed a sworn statement in a Panamanian court proceeding that the funds were from her, and returned to her.
(2) She wired $56,000 to a Panamanian foundation controlled by herself, her former husband, Didimo Alberto Navarro**, and her son, all of whom are directors.
(3) She admitted in her videotaped, sworn deposition that she withdrew an additional $42,000, without company authorisation.
(4) She obtained a cashier's cheque, again without company authorisation, in the amount of $574,000, and flew to Panama to personally deposit the cheque. The bank refused to accept it, due to the fact that the name of the payee foundation was incomplete as written on the instrument. Thereafter, she returned the cheque to the company's lawyers, to avoid the threat of legal action.
Finally, in what might be the most arrogant act I have seen in a long time, she brought a bogus civil suit against her former employer, claiming that she took the funds because she was due "commissions" or other remuneration. Her attorneys later changed the theory upon which she bases her claim. During the suit, which is still pending, she admitted to Spoliation of Evidence in her deposition. It appears that she did not report the funds she took as income for US income tax purposes.
Her attempt to secure her employer's trade secrets was denied by the Court, and she has refused to admit whether he gave untrue information about her employer to a US law enforcement agency, resulting in the cancellation of his visa to enter the United States. The company's lawyer has moved to strike her pleadings and enter a Default in the case, due to her conduct; the company has filed a counterclaim.
She's got another problem. She reportedly failed to disclose the details of her problem with the alleged embezzlement in her citizenship application, which could constitute immigration fraud, leading to the revocation of not only her citizenship, but any relatives who have obtained residency status through her. Unfortunately, those records are not public, so I could not ascertain the status of that matter.
Why is this case of topical interest ? When she transferred the proceeds of her alleged embezzlement and theft*** to a bank in Panama, and when she personally attempted to deposit that $574,000 cashier's cheque in a Panamanian bank, she appears to have committed multiple violations of US laws against money laundering. All the individuals who assisted her, including her Panamanian associates, and her husband and son, could be charged with money laundering conspiracy, as well as other crimes.
We shall continue to follow this interesting case, and will report further on all important developments as they occur.
* Case No. : 09-64119 CA 15 (11th Judicial Circuit, Miami-Dade County, Florida).
** Mr. Navarro, who resides in Colombia, is reportedly employed by a businessman who was indicted, by the United States, in the Cali Cartel case, and whose court file contains information under seal.
*** Predicate acts listed in the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986, as amended.