MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — A Nicaraguan judge on Wednesday found 18 Mexicans detained while transporting $9.2 million in cash in the Central American country guilty of drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.
The group was detained in August near Nicaragua’s border with Honduras while traveling in six vans with logos like those used by Mexican television giant Televisa. The bundles of cash had been stashed in compartments inside the vehicles.
Judge Edgard Altamirano said evidence showed the 17 men and one woman were members of organized crime.
“The way they stashed the cash in the vehicles with the Televisa logos, the large amount of money, that’s the typical way members of organized crime act,” Altamirano said.
The detainees told authorities at the time they were members of a Televisa news crew that had traveled to Nicaragua to cover the trial of suspects linked to the 2011 killing of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral.
Authorities haven’t said whether the group, which was led by Raquel Alatorre, was working for a drug cartel. Several were identified as employees of private security firms in Tamaulipas, the northern Mexico border state that is home to the Zetas and Gulf cartels.
Before Altamirano issued his verdict, he allowed the defendants to speak.
Only eight of the defendants, looking distraught, spoke and asked the judge for a “fair decision” and said they were not guilty. They also apologized to Nicaragua and Mexico for any inconvenience their case caused.
Alatorre spoke first and asked that she be transferred from a prison in the capital to a women’s prison in southwest Nicaragua.
Alatorre’s attorney, Ricardo Ramirez Magnali, said the prosecution didn’t prove its case but he wouldn’t say whether his client plans to appeal the verdict.
“The prosecution did not prove that the defendants came to alter our Nicaraguan financial system with money laundering,” Ramirez Magnali said.
Prosecutors said it was Alatorre who processed the group’s migration permits, and arranged for lodging and food. They said she had crossed into Nicaragua several times since 2008. They said she entered and exited Nicaragua 22 times between 2010 and 2011.
Nicaraguan authorities said the elaborate ruse was intended to smuggle the cash through Nicaragua to the neighboring nation of Costa Rica to the south.
Mexican drug cartels frequently buy Colombian cocaine to ship north to the U.S. market, and often must smuggle cash back south to pay the Colombia suppliers.
Prosecutors requested the maximum sentence of 30 years. Altamirano set the sentencing date for Jan. 18.
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11