The former owner of Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market in Henry County, Va., has been sentenced to 8 years in federal prison for her part in a money laundering operation involving an international drug cartel.
Ana Bella Sanchez-Rios was sentenced last week for moving more than $4.3 million from her store at 6280 A.L. Philpott Highway for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (called CJNG), Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar said in a release.
The Department of Justice has named CJNG, a Mexican-based criminal organization, one of the most dangerous transnational organizations in the world.
Sanchez-Rios, 48, owned and operated Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market, a business that contracted with Intermex Wire Transfer, LLC.
Sanchez was indicted in March 2019, along with 12 members of CJNG, on a variety of federal drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges.
Sanchez-Rios admitted in court documents that from 2016 through 2018 she used her business to launder the drug trafficking proceeds on behalf of CJNG, the release stated.
Her role was to receive U.S. currency from multiple people working for CJNG, which she knew were the drug-trafficking proceeds and obtained from criminal activity.
“When individuals launder money for a drug cartel, they play a critical role for the organization by concealing and transferring illegally obtained funds, which perpetuates the cartel’s illegal activity and the scourge of the narcotics the cartel pedals,” Bubar said. “Money-laundering investigations can be particularly difficult, and I’m proud of the hard work of our federal and state law enforcement partners in bringing Sanchez-Rios to justice.”
Raymond Villanueva, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Washington, D.C. Field Office, and Jarod A. Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Division, announced the sentence.
“Drug cartels like CJNG perpetrate unspeakable violence across the globe and drive the spread of deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin,” Forget said. “We are committed to working with our partners to shut down these violent organizations in our area, often by tracking their illicit proceeds and disrupting these organizations at their bottom line. Today, these criminals’ addiction to money and greed has bet its consequence.”
Sanchez-Rios admitted she wired the ill-gotten money to Mexico in small amounts using made-up names and addresses as senders.
Between May 10, 2016 and Sept. 11, 2018, Sanchez-Rios transferred $4,394,959 of drug money from her store in Laurel Park to Mexico, the release stated.
Sanchez-Rios pleaded guilty in June 2020 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating a business that transmitted criminally derived funds.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security-Homeland Security Investigations, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, and the Virginia State Police and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Welsh.
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.