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Judge blocks release of Kansas couple accused of laundering cartel drug money

A Sandiganbayan anti-graft court sheriff adjusts chairs inside a courtroom in Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday Sept. 11, 2007, where a verdict in ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada's corruption trial will be announced on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

A Sandiganbayan anti-graft court sheriff adjusts chairs inside a courtroom in Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday Sept. 11, 2007, where a verdict in ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada's corruption trial will be announced on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

A federal judge on Thursday blocked a Texas magistrate judge's order that allowed the release of a couple accused of laundering cartel drug money at a small southwest Kansas bank.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten in Wichita revoked the release order for George and Agatha Enns of Meade, who prosecutors say conspired with the former bank president of Plains State Bank to launder drug money for a Mexican cartel. Marten ordered the couple be returned to Kansas, where the issue of their detention pending trial could be resolved.

Two other former bank employees are also charged with failing to report the suspicious financial transactions.

Former bank president James Kirk Friend, former loan officer Matthew Thomas and former casher Kathy Shelman were never arrested and remain free on bond after making their initial court appearances Wednesday.

But federal prosecutors in Kansas were vehemently opposed to Tuesday's decision by a federal magistrate judge in El Paso, Texas, where the Ennses were arrested, allowing George Enns to be released on a $50,000 bond and his wife to be released on a $35,000 bond.

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The government alleged in a court filing Wednesday that the release plans fail to address the issues of available assets in the United States and Mexico, which make it possible for the defendants to flee to avoid prosecution.

A pretrial services report prepared by the court's probation office in El Paso noted George Enns told them he owns Southwest Water Well Services in Kansas as well as 425 acres in Chihuahua, Mexico, and that the Mexican property was sold for $1.8 million. His wife valued the well services company at $5 million. The report also mentioned a corn business in Mexico, but the defendants did not identify its location or value.

The government said it is aware of the couple's multiple bank accounts in the U.S. and Mexico, none of which they disclosed to the probation office, as well as $28,340 in cash and a money counter in their home.

"The failure to identify these assets, as well as others, demonstrates an air of deceitfulness on the part of the defendants as well as the failure to fully examine and question them about these matters when evaluating them and the proposed plans of release," prosecutors wrote.

Marten also ordered Thursday that a supplemental report be prepared and that both defendants, with the help of their attorneys, be given the opportunity to amend or correct the financial information they provided to the Texas magistrate.

The Kansas couple was indicted last week on one count of money laundering conspiracy, 34 counts of money laundering and one count of attempted money laundering. Friend also faces a conspiracy count along with 29 counts of money laundering and one count of failing to file a suspicious activity report. Thomas and Shelman each face a single count for failing to file a suspicious activity report.

The indictment alleges that between 2011 and 2014, the Ennses deposited more than $6.8 million into their account at Plains State Bank; cash deposits totaled more than $1.6 million. The couple also had an account with Bank of America in El Paso containing about $1 million.

Their indictment in Kansas is part of a larger national investigation, which has resulted in 20 indictments against defendants in Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Mexico, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Wichita. In the Kansas case, investigators seized more than 5,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $2 million in cash.

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