Federal agents seized approximately $20 million in cash hidden in a box spring in a Westborough apartment late yesterday, in connection with an alleged money laundering attempt related to the massive TelexFree pyramid scheme.
Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, was arrested last night and charged with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering. He was detained after an appearance before a federal judge today.
According to the office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Rocha was allegedly acting as a courier for the nephew of Carlos Wanzeler, a co-founder of TelexFree, who, after an April 2014 search of TelexFree's Marlborough headquarters by federal agents, allegedly fled to his native Brazil, where he has remained. Wanzeler and his his co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014 on charges that they operated TelexFree as a massive pyramid scheme. Merrill pleaded guilty to those charges in October 2016 and is awaiting sentencing.
A complaint cited by Ortiz's office alleges that Wanzeler's nephew in Brazil arranged with an associate, who became a cooperating witness for the government, to launder millions of dollars of TelexFree money still hidden in the greater Boston area from the United States to Brazil. The cooperating associate allegedly arranged with Wanzeler's nephew to launder the money through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian reals, and then transfer it into Brazilian accounts.
Rocha, acting as a messenger for Wanzeler's nephew, flew from Brazil to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, N.Y. a few days ago and met the cooperating witness at a restaurant in Hudson last night, where he allegedly gave him $2.2 million in a suitcase. After the meeting, federal agents followed Rocha to an apartment in Westborough, where they arrested him. After a search of the apartment, agents seized about $20 million in cash hidden in a box spring.
Rocha faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, according to Ortiz's office.