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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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USA Took the Money & Ran, Businessman Says

TUCSON (CN) - The United States seized $1.2 million from a Mexican businessman's Arizona bank accounts, while investigating an alleged drug trafficking scheme in which he had no part, the elderly man claims in court.

Roberto Cantu-Valencia, 77, of Nogales, Sonora, sued the United States in Federal Court. He claims Uncle Sam seized all the money he has, which he needs to keep his businesses afloat.

U.S. Customs agents seized the money in July from his JP Morgan Chase Bank accounts in Nogales, Ariz., "in connection with a criminal prosecution arising out of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, United States v. Beatriz Valenzuela," according to the complaint.

Beatriz Valenzuela and nine others were charged in Maryland in July with intent to distribute and possess 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana and money laundering. She pleaded not guilty.

Cantu, who is not a defendant in the indictment, says he had nothing to do with the alleged crimes. He says he is connected to Valenzuela only through a real estate deal involving his son-in-law, Gustavo Moreno-Freig, and Moreno-Freig's cousin, Enrique Moreno-Escobar, an orthodontist in Nogales, Sonora. Neither of them is named in the Maryland indictment either.

"Enrique Moreno wanted to buy investment property from Ms. Valenzuela in Puerto Peñasco," Cantu says in his Motion for Return of Property.

"Ms. Valenzuela agreed and accepted payment of $300,000. However, Ms. Valenzuela changed her mind, apparently after receiving a better offer. Enrique Moreno agreed to the return of his money, as long as Ms. Valenzuela paid the additional 50 percent penalty. In the meantime, Enrique Moreno had purchased property from Mr. Cantu in order to relocate his orthodontics practice in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Enrique Moreno directed his first cousin, Gustavo Moreno, to take the payments that Enrique Moreno was to receive from Ms. Valenzuela and pay them to Mr. Cantu. This is the only relation Mr. Cantu has to any money coming from Ms. Valenzuela," according to the complaint.

Any other large cash deposits "reflect Mr. Cantu's sale of land to the Mexican federal government for the location of power lines," Cantu says.

"Mr. Cantu is a legitimate businessman, and does not know and has never met Ms. Valenzuela," the complaint states.

"Mr. Cantu had no knowledge of and was not involved in any narcotics trafficking and/or money laundering schemes and/or any other illegal activities Ms. Valenzuela may have been involved in."

Cantu says the government seized the money without probable cause, and that he needs it back not only to stay in business, but to stay alive.

"Mr. Cantu is the owner of extensive business holdings in Nogales, Sonora," the complaint states. "Mr. Cantu has also been involved in commercial real estate investments and leasing for more than 30 years. The money in Mr. Cantu's JPMorgan Chase accounts represents the money received from all of his businesses. It also represents his life savings. The money is used to run his businesses on a day-to-day basis, and is also used for medical bills, food, and essentially all of Mr. Cantu's business and personal expenses."

In addition to his real estate businesses, Cantu says, he has "served on the boards of some of Mexico's major national banks, including Bancomer, Serfin, Comermex, and Banco Mexicano."

He is represented by Michael Piccarreta, with Piccarreta Davis in Tucson.

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