COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) – Federal investigators believe an auto dealership was a front for a multimillion dollar operation involving drugs, cars and money laundering. Agents are searching for a tunnel that could have been used for smuggling.

The dealership is the Chopeque Auto Sales on Quebec. Twenty vehicles with clear titles were seized while investigators worked.

The IRS, DEA, Homeland Security and other agencies impounded the cars after breaking up an alleged multimillion dollar money laundering scheme.

“There were multiple arrests made, not here but at another location. We’ve basically taken control of the business for today,” said IRS Special Agent Bryan Thiel.

The federal indictment alleges Raul Mendoza, 48; Julia Castillo-Caraveo, 28; and Isidro Menodoza-Ortiz, 25; were using the dealership to launder drug money by hiding it through false sales documents.

According to the indictment, from February 2008 through May 2012, the suspects conspired to structure currency by depositing transactions with the intent to evade the reporting requirements as required by law.

Daily cash receipts from the dealership were received at the business and structured into separate accounts at various banks to avoid the $10,000 reporting requirements.

The IRS said the business also sold cars to known drug dealers including two undercover agents, falsified documents and never reported the transactions.

Agents searched the home located next to the business, looking for a tunnel that connects the home to Chopeque.

“They searched the whole house looking for the tunnel that they heard about. They asked if we knew about it and we said, ‘No,’ because we haven’t seen it,” said neighbor Aylinn Villanueva.

Villanueva said her home used to be an office for the business but she knows nothing of a tunnel.

“I’m curious about it. Is there really a tunnel under here?” said Villanueva.

“Working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we were able to uncover a sophisticated scheme where the defendants hid drug dealing proceeds by laundering the money through the sale of automobiles,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said in a statement.

The suspects will be arraigned on Friday.


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