CARACAS, Venezuela – A Colombian man with links to a pyramid scheme that bilked Colombians out of hundreds of millions of dollars was deported by Venezuela on Thursday to the United States, where he is wanted on money-laundering charges.
Venezuelan authorities took Luis Cediel to Caracas' main airport for the flight to the U.S. Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Cediel would be handed over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Colombian was indicted by U.S. authorities in New York earlier this year along with three co-defendents, accused of coordinating the collection of millions of dollars in drug proceeds in Mexico City beginning in February 2008.
The indictment unsealed in March says Cediel worked primarily out of Mexico for DMG Group Holdings SA, a business that promised fantastic interest rates but collapsed last November, prompting hundreds of angry investors to storm the company's office in Colombia. Authorities arrested DMG's principals and shuttered the company.
Cediel is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and if convicted could face up to 20 years in prison.
His defense attorney, Lawrence M. Herrmann, said by phone from New York that he would like to speak with his client before commenting on the case.
Cediel was captured by the Venezuelan National Guard last week in the northwestern state of Falcon.
He was an associate of David Murcia, the man who built DMG and who is imprisoned in Colombia. Murcia also has been indicted in the U.S. on charges of conspiracy to launder money, including at least $2.2 million wired to a Merrill Lynch account allegedly set up on his behalf.
Colombian police Col. Jaime Vega said last week that funds totaling $2.2 million have been frozen in the U.S., and that $11 million in properties have also been frozen in the case.
Vega said authorities believe Cediel was involved in receiving dollars in cash, then providing Colombian currency, and then moving the funds to Mexico and the United States.
U.S. and Colombian authorities say Cediel's wife, Margarita Pabon, who is also imprisoned in Colombia, was legal adviser to DMG and was on the board of several of its companies.