Flight attendant and two bank employees charged in federal indictment of alleged Mexico-based drug trafficking organization


Date: May 21, 2024

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

CHICAGO — A flight attendant and two bank employees in Indiana have been charged in a federal indictment that accuses a Mexico-based drug trafficking organization of moving thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States and laundering tens of millions of dollars in proceeds.

A superseding indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago charges flight attendant Glenis Zapata of Lafayette, IN, with assisting the traffickers in the transportation of drug proceeds on commercial airline flights. Glenis Zapata possessed a “Known Crew Member” badge and used her authority to help the traffickers move cash drug proceeds from the Midwest to the southern part of the U.S. and into Mexico, the indictment states. The traffickers also allegedly used other means to ship the money, including semi-trailer trucks and a private charter airplane that was seized by federal authorities in 2021 at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Ind.

The two bank employees – Ilenis Zapata of Lafayette, IN, and Georgina Banuelos of Lafayette, IN – helped launder the drug proceeds by exchanging lower denominated bills for higher denominated bills, the indictment states. Ilenis Zapata and Banuelos, who worked together at a bank in Lafayette, Ind., also knowingly and willfully failed to file currency reports for the transactions, as required under federal law, the indictment states.

The superseding indictment added Glenis Zapata, Ilenis Zapata, and Banuelos as defendants and renewed conspiracy and money laundering charges previously filed against 15 others, including the alleged leader of the drug trafficking organization, Oswaldo Espinosa of Mexico; the organization’s primary manager, Jorge Borbon-Ochoa of Mexico; and the head of its Chicago operations, Ricardo Tello of Mission, Texas. Espinosa’s organization allegedly transported the cocaine in wholesale quantities from Mexico to various U.S. cities, including Chicago, from 2018 to 2023. The traffickers used warehouses, garages, and stash houses in Chicago to receive and store the cocaine and cash, the indictment states.

Arraignments on the superseding charges have not yet been scheduled.

The superseding indictment was announced by Morris Pasqual, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Justin Campbell, Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Chicago Field Office, Sheila G. Lyons, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, LaFonda Sutton-Burke, Director of the Chicago Field Office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Sean Fitzgerald, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of Homeland Security Investigations. Substantial assistance was provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Office of Inspector General and the Lafayette, Ind. Police Department. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Erskine, Ashley Chung, and Adam Rosenbloom.

The case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles drug traffickers and other criminal offenders that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multiagency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement against criminal networks.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, obtaining a more than a 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.