Owner of currency exchange house pleads guilty to intentionally violating anti-money laundering laws


Date: May 4, 2021

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

San Diego — Marco A. Gonzalez, a local business owner of MRK Casa de Cambio, pleaded guilty in federal court today to violating laws and regulations designed to prevent money laundering by customers of his currency exchange business.

Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI") led the investigation into millions of dollars of transactions at MRK Casa de Cambio from approximately 2015 to 2020.

As admitted in the plea agreement entered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo, Gonzalez knew of, and intentionally failed to adhere to, the anti-money laundering ("AML") laws and regulations imposed on currency exchange businesses like MRK Casa de Cambio. As with any U.S. financial institution, casas de cambio, currency exchanges houses, and other "money services businesses" must comply with the United States Bank Secrecy Act, found at Title 31, United States Code and Title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, which requires these businesses to assist U.S. government agencies in detecting and preventing money laundering and other financial crimes.

Chief among the violations to which Gonzalez admitted in his plea agreement were: failing to disclose MRK Casa de Cambio's Mexico-based offices and branches with the Secretary of the Treasury; reporting false and materially incomplete information in connection with the registration of MRK Casa de Cambio; filing false or materially misleading (if filed at all) reports of currency transactions exceeding $10,000 and reports of suspicious activity.

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy S. Grossman said, "The gatekeepers of the United States financial system must be steadfast in the fight against international money laundering. The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to demand the highest standards of anti-money laundering compliance by all financial institutions—whether a global financial conglomerate, or a single-office currency exchange house. I commend the diligence of the Homeland Security Investigations special agents for their commitment to prosecuting these crimes." Grossman also praised prosecutors Daniel Silva and Michael A. Deshong for their excellent work on this case.

As a result of these intentional failures, among others, Gonzalez admitted in his plea agreement that he caused MRK Casa de Cambio to engage in cash transactions without applying adequate scrutiny to the source, purpose, ownership, or destination of the funds, or otherwise whether they were relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation. In doing so, Gonzalez acknowledged that he failed to adhere to best practices for all financial institutions; but, more specifically for a money services business like MRK Casa De Cambio, Gonzalez failed to develop and maintain an AML program that was commensurate with the risks posed by the location, size, nature, and volume of the financial services provided by his money services business.

Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations, San Diego, also stated, "Communities along the Southwest border are particularly vulnerable to money laundering, and HSI is committed to protecting our communities by investigating the financial networks and third-party money launderers that facilitate introduction of the illicit proceeds into the U.S. financial system. This guilty plea, by the owner of a money service business in San Ysidro, sends a strong signal to financial institutions and especially money service businesses to remain vigilant in their anti-money laundering duties."

Special Agent in Charge Morant further noted the assistance of local, regional, and federal partners on this investigation, including: IRS Criminal Investigation, San Diego County Sheriff's Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sentencing is scheduled to occur on August 2, 2021 before U.S. District Judge Todd W. Robinson.

*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or information are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.