Until the moment she took $500 from a friend as payment for making a bank deposit, Gloria Cuero says she was just a church-going courthouse security guard. The friend was a seasoned Colombian heroin dealer, says the Houston Chronicle, and Cuero committed a crime by laundering drug money and helping him stash dope cash. Cuero and a housekeeper were sucked into a money laundering and heroin smuggling ring that stretched from South America to Houston, Miami, New York, New Jersey, and Detroit. They say they just needed some quick money.
What the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration dubbed Operation Red Dolly offers an inside look at an organization based in Houston that for at least two years smuggled the drugs and illegally stashed money. Six people, all Colombians, were convicted and sentenced in Houston. The money was part of an invisible pipeline that the U.S. Department of Justice contends allows Mexican and Colombian drug-trafficking organizations to launder and stash between $18 billion and $39 billion in wholesale proceeds each year. Drug money leaving the country repeatedly has taken center stage, including in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report that looked at shortcomings in efforts to stem cross-border currency smuggling. In Red Dolly, full-time criminals used others to do their business, said Wendell Campbell, spokesman for the DEA’s Houston Division. “These people were family and friends,” he said. “Although they weren’t trying to make a living laundering drug money, they were paid to do so and knew the money  came from illegal sources.” Cuero, who lived in Florida, deposited a total of $14,000 and was sentenced to a year in prison.