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Border & Immigration

Mexican Airplane Broker Charged With Laundering Drug Money Makes Court Appearance

A 44-year-old Mexican airplane broker charged in a 200-count indictment with laundering drug money through the sale of nearly three dozen light airplanes made his first appearance in the case Thursday in a San Diego federal courtroom.

Vincente Contreras-Amezquita of Tijuana was arrested last week and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

According to the grand jury indictment, Contreras-Amezquita, his wife and other co-defendants facilitated the purchase of 35 Cessna 206s and 210s and airplane parts, including auxiliary fuel tanks, heavy-duty tires and landing gear intended for landing on clandestine airfields during narcotics- smuggling runs.


The small planes are favored by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations because of their reliability, speed and ability to carry heavy payloads over long distances, according to law enforcement officials.

Contreras-Amezquita, who lived in San Diego at the time, and others allegedly used 46 U.S. bank accounts to deposit $3.6 million in cash over a five-year period and made transfers between them for the purchase of aircraft and plane parts.

Contreras-Amezquita concealed his crimes by collecting illicit drug proceeds in random locations, like strip malls, parking lots, aircraft hangars and fast-food restaurants, court documents state.

In order to hide the source of the money and to evade currency-reporting requirements, Contreras-Amezquita instructed his confederates to arrange for cash deposits of less than $10,000 into multiple accounts at different U.S. financial institutions, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego.

Often, the conspirators would make multiple deposits on the same and consecutive days and into various accounts at multiple banking offices in various U.S. states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan and Texas, prosecutors allege.