MIAMI (Reuters) - The head of a transatlantic cocaine smuggling ring dubbed “Los Miami” has been 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.
“In the world of drug trafficking, Álvaro López Tardón is a bona fide kingpin,” George Piro, head of the FBI’s Miami office, said in a statement on Thursday. “His multi-million dollar cocaine enterprise spanned the globe from South America to Spain to Miami,” he added.
The seven-week trial included 36,000 pages of financial and corporate documents from Spain and the United States, as well as testimony from six members of the Spanish National Police, a member of the Spanish national wiretapping agency, and the Spanish taxing authority.
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 a former girlfriend confessed to funneling López Tardón’s cocaine money into Miami’s booming condominium market. Both pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2012.
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 and David Adams; Editing by David Adams, Eric Beech and Will Dunham