News Column

Businessman Tied to Mexico Fraud Scandal

July 2, 2013

A businessman tied to one of Mexico's biggest corruption scandals is in jail in San Antonio on federal money-laundering charges.

Ricardo Viso Seligson, a 44-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Mexico City and has a home on the North Side, faces up to five years in prison if convicted of one count each of conducting an unlicensed money transmitting business and aiding and abetting an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Viso pleaded not guilty Monday and is being held without bail. His lawyer, Patrick T. Peranteau, said Viso surrendered to U.S. authorities Friday at San Antonio International Airport. He wouldn't comment further.

Peranteau said during a court hearing Monday that federal agents seized $300,000 from his client. A federal grand jury indicted him June 19.

Viso's arrest comes on the heels of federal prosecutors in San Diego bringing charges of money laundering and importing counterfeit goods against a businessman there in a related case.

Mexican news reports have also tied Viso to a scandal involving one of that country's most powerful union leaders who was arrested this year and charged with embezzlement. Mexican prosecutors allege that union boss Elba Esther Gordillo went on multimillion-dollar shopping sprees and bought pricey real estate in the United States.

Prosecutors allege that Viso set up four shell companies in San Antonio -- Roving Cel LLC, Drako Trading LLC, Leon Springs LLC and Yowl Solutions LLC, which has an office on Stone Oak Parkway -- and used them to shift around $20 million in wire transfers as part of a money-laundering scheme.

Bexar County records show that in 2007 he bought a house, with a current assessed value of $308,000, in the Stonewall Ranch subdivision.

The indictment against him doesn't contain information about the origins of the alleged illicit funds.

The case is the latest involving a half-dozen alleged money laundering organizations targeted by state and federal prosecutors in San Antonio.

Mexican media has reported that country's electoral commission is looking into checks made out to Viso by a political party formed by Gordillo, the leader of Mexico's powerful teachers union. She is in jail, facing embezzlement charges.

Officials with the New Alliance Party, which Gordillo founded in 2006, wouldn't comment on the allegations about Viso on Monday and referred reporters to a statement the party released after the union boss' arrest. The statement distanced the party from Gordillo.

Gordillo's arrest in the first months of newly elected President Enrique Pena Nieto's term created a splash in Mexico. Gordillo styled herself a king-maker, said Luis Rubio, an analyst for the Center of Research for Development, a Mexico City think tank. She claimed to control the votes of millions of union members and started her own political party, Rubio said.

Mexico's restrictive campaign finance laws mean that almost everyone seeking office takes illegal contributions, Rubio said, and the teachers union acted as "a super, ultra PAC."

"The politicians have to ask for money, and it has to be laundered," Rubio said. "They have to obtain donations in a way that it's not traceable."

The allegations of Gordilla's extravagances on the union's dime have become legendary in Mexico. Between 2009 and 2012, Gordillo had nominees transfer $3 million to Neiman Marcus to pay for her shopping sprees, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said at a news conference after the union boss' February arrest. She also spent the money on plastic surgery and bought three houses in the U.S., including two on an island off the coast of San Diego, Murillo Karam said. The money was filtered through American and Swiss banks, he said.

One of Viso's companies, Roving Cel, received wire transfers from a California company whose owner was arrested last month and accused of importing counterfeit cellphones as part of a money-laundering scheme.

Prosecutors in San Diego allege that Mark Ira Sussman, 51, from 2011 up to his arrest last month imported fake cellphones, stamped with brand-name logos but without any electronics inside, from Mexico.

Sussman and his co-conspirators sold the phones to shell companies they had created to give the appearance of legitimate sales, the indictment against him alleges.

On two occasions in January, one of Sussman's companies, La Jolla Exports and Investments Inc., wired about $120,000 to Viso's Roving Cel, according to the San Antonio indictment.

Roving Cel then wired the money to bank accounts in Mexico, the indictment alleges.

Sussman has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer said Sussman is still in jail even though a federal judge in San Diego granted him bail.



Source: (c)2013 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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