Delaware Woman Sentenced to 9 years in Federal Prison for Laundering Drug Proceeds

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WILMINGTON, DE — David C. Weiss, U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced that on February 23, 2023, Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting by designation in the District of Delaware, sentenced Shakira Martinez to 9 years incarceration for money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and structuring bank transactions following a jury verdict in July of 2022.  Martinez was convicted together with her husband, Omar Colon, who was previously sentenced to 45 years incarceration for money laundering and drug crimes.  Colon was referred to in Court as one of the biggest cocaine traffickers in Delaware history.

According to court records and statements made in open court, between 2009 and 2017, Martinez and Colon laundered nearly a million dollars in drug proceeds through the purchase of real estate properties in Delaware and Pennsylvania using their company, Zemi Property Management.  They deposited drug money into several different bank accounts – and asked their friends and family members to do the same – and then used those funds to buy cashier’s checks that funded the property purchases.  As the government noted at the sentencing hearing, the success of Colon’s drug empire would not have been possible without Martinez’s money laundering and structuring crimes.

Colon was arrested on May 6, 2017, shortly after giving his cocaine supplier $382,045 in cash in a hotel parking lot in Newark, Delaware.  The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) subsequently discovered a secret underground bunker beneath Colon and Martinez’s residence, accessed by a tunnel behind a false fireplace, in which Colon hid a marijuana grow operation.

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Before imposing the sentence, Circuit Judge Bibas noted the seriousness of Martinez’s crimes, and said that money laundering is a “huge issue that fuels the drug trade with all its harms.”  He further noted that the Court “needs to send a message that money laundering is a serious crime.”

U.S. Attorney Weiss commented on the case: “Ms. Martinez has received a serious sentence consistent with her central role in Colon’s drug empire.  As Circuit Judge Bibas acknowledged in his remarks, drug trafficking wreaks havoc on the community and on families.  Mr. Colon imported massive amounts of cocaine into Delaware for many years.  The only way for Mr. Colon and Ms. Martinez to reap the fruits of Colon’s drug crimes and amass a real estate empire was through their money laundering scheme.”

“Martinez’s money laundering and structuring activities were the fuel that allowed her husband Colon to continue to purchase cocaine in furtherance of his drug-trafficking activities,” said Thomas Hodnett, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division.  “We applaud the sentence that Judge Bibas’ imposed on Martinez and his declaration of money laundering as the serious crime that it is.”

Special Agent in Charge Yury Kruty said “IRS Criminal Investigation special agents are uniquely qualified to follow complex financial transactions and uncover the source of the illegal funds.  Martinez and Colon employed multiple tactics to clean up their ill-gotten gains, but in the end, they could not outsmart the government. The sentence handed down today is a stark reminder of the fate of those who engage in money laundering schemes.”

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Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer K. Welsh and Meredith C. Ruggles prosecuted the case.  This case was investigated by the DEA Philadelphia Division and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations.

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