June 12, 2014 / 3:15 PM / 3 years ago

Accused Spanish drug lord convicted in Miami for drug money laundering

MIAMI (Reuters) - The head of a transatlantic cocaine smuggling ring dubbed “Los Miami” was convicted of laundering more than $26 million in the United States through multimillion-dollar waterfront condos and exotic sports cars.

Álvaro López Tardón faces up to 20 years in prison after a jury convicted him on Wednesday of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

At the time of his 2011 arrest federal officials seized 17 luxury cars, including a 2008 Bugatti Veyron, and a 2003 Ferrari Enzo, as a well as a Rolls Royce, a Bentley and an Aston Martin, from López Tardón and four other associates including his brother who is also indicted in the United States but is currently in custody in Spain.

Federal officials confiscated more than a dozen high-rise condominiums and 26 bank accounts as part of the case.

López Tardón, who lived in a posh penthouse suite on Miami Beach between 2001 and 2011, made the bulk of his purchases through a shell company, according to court documents.

His empire, which smuggled cocaine from Latin America to Spain and laundered the proceeds through Miami, began to crumble when officials in 2011 arrested a close confidant alleged to be López Tardón’s personal Santeria priest, who was carrying more than 21,000 euros ($27,000) in a briefcase through Miami International Airport.

A former partner later admitted to hiding cocaine inside Peruvian pepper crates destined for Spain, and an ex-girlfriend confessed to funneling López Tardón’s cocaine money into Miami’s booming condominium market. Both pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2012.

Prosecutors filed a court document listing López Tardón’s other alleged “bad acts,” including attempting to kill a Spanish policeman in a nightclub in 2003, ordering two murders in Spain, and threatening to kill his wife in 2011 when she refused to file for an extension on his U.S. resident’s “green card.”

His ex-wife testified in court about luxury shopping sprees that included spending thousands of dollars on designer handbags and shoes, and more than $200,000 on plastic surgery.

López Tardón’s defense attorney Howard Srebnick argued the proceeds came from his family’s luxury car dealership and gourmet food shop in Madrid, and that they offered wire transfer records as proof there was nothing to hide.

López Tardón’s real estate purchases were done openly, without any attempt to hide his financial interest, his lawyers said.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech

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