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Convicted drug trafficker arrested on money laundering charges

Mauricio Vargas, 44, accused of engaging in Colombian black market peso exchange

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A convicted drug trafficker from Miami was arrested last week on money laundering charges.

According to an arrest report,  the Drug Enforcement Administration was notified by a confidential informant between April 2015 and May 2015 that Mauricio Vargas, 44, was coordinating to receive a load of about 20 to 30 kilograms of cocaine from the southwestern border of the U.S., which would then arrive in South Florida.

The informant told authorities that Vargas planned to hide the drugs inside the gas tank of a semi-tractor trailer that would be driven by a man who works for the U.S. government, possibly as a camera or communications technician.

In May 2015, Miami-Dade narcotics bureau detectives were also notified by an anonymous source that Vargas was storing a large sum of U.S. currency inside his home that was derived from trafficking cocaine and the importation of counterfeit currency into the U.S. from Colombia.

Detectives executed a search warrant at Vargas' home and said they found hidden compartments throughout the house, but no U.S. currency.

According to the arrest report, Vargas admitted that the hidden compartments were used to conceal money and drugs.

Police said Vargas was pulled over on Thursday for running a red light and officers asked him if they could search his Jeep Wrangler because they smelled marijuana.

Authorities said Vargas agreed and an officer found a black backpack hidden underneath the rear seat that contained a large sum of U.S. currency.

Police said a large, plastic box inside the vehicle also contained a large sum of money.

Authorities said the cash was in "quick-count bundles" and were rubber banded together.

Detectives said Vargas confessed to receiving the money from a man known to him as Gustavo De Los Rios. He told detectives that he was a middle man for the Gulf Cartel, authorities said.

Detectives said Vargas told them that De Los Rios had previously given him cocaine to ship from the southwest border to Miami, which resulted in a previous arrest by the DEA.

Vargas said the money seized from his vehicle was payment for a cocaine shipment from the southwest border originating from the Gulf Cartel, the arrest report said.

Vargas was released after he was interviewed by detectives.

He voluntarily responded to the police station on Friday to provide additional information about who the money was being given to, authorities said.

Detectives said based on his information, it was clear that Vargas was engaging in the Colombian black market peso exchange. 

Authorities said the total amount of currency seized was $537,435. 

Vargas was arrested on charges of money laundering and being an unauthorized money transmitter.

He is being held in lieu of a $1 million bond.

Records show that Vargas was sentenced to five years in federal prison after he was arrested in 2011 by the DEA for trafficking in cocaine. 

Authorities said he was taken into custody after driving from Miami to Orlando to receive a shipment of 124 kilograms of cocaine from Texas, with an unadulterated value of slightly less than $4 million.

Authorities said Vargas also was arrested in 1997 for importing counterfeit money and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

Records show he was arrested in 1994 and 1996 for possessing counterfeit money and served 51 months in federal prison.


About the Author:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.