The people charged with overseeing an illegal network of deaf Mexican peddlers laundered tens of thousands of one-dollar bills through casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and then smuggled the cash to Mexico, according to a federal investigator and a man who said he played a minor role in the operation.
Brendan Coenen, 25, who is the former brother-in-law of one of the central figures charged in the scheme, also said that the group’s network extended well beyond the illegal immigrants taken from two houses in Queens County during police raids on Saturday.
He said that dozens of other peddlers, who sold trinkets in the New York City subway, were also working for the group from other bases in Queens and the Bronx.
In addition, he said that his former sister-in-law, Adriana Paoletti-Lemus, 29, told him that she earned nearly $200,000 a year, almost all of which was deposited in banks in Mexico City. Court records made public on Monday described Paoletti as the boss of that part of the network operating from a house in the Jackson Heights section of Queens.
“She held their green cards and violence over their heads,” Coenen said. “Sometimes she wouldn’t even pay them in money. Sometimes it was just pizza.”
Coenen said that the peddling of trinkets generated so much cash that ringleaders would routinely leave stacks of dollar bills throughout the houses in which they operated. Law enforcement officials said on Monday that $35,000 in cash was found at the Jackson Heights house, $10,000 in single dollar bills.
There was so much money lying around, he said, that he once stole $5,000. But he said that his brother, Frank Coenen, and Paoletti notified the police, and that he spent two months in prison last year after being convicted of burglary.
That is his motivation, he said, for discussing the operation. “They say that blood is thicker than water,” he said. “But not when you’re running the slave trade.”