October 20, 2017

Telexfree money launderer pleads guilty

File Photo
Authorities found $20 million in cash hidden inside a mattress box spring in Westborough in January.

A Brazilian man charged with laundering $20 million in proceeds from a Marlborough pyramid scheme pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday.

Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha, 28, pld guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of conspiring to commit money laundering.

According to the U. S. Attorney's Office, agents raided the TelexFree headquarters in 2014. That same day, co-founder Carlos Wanzeler fled the country, first to Canada and then to his native Brazil, but left behind millions of dollars hidden in the Greater Boston area.

Later in 2015, a intermediary working on Wanzeler's behalf began working with an associate to help him transfer the money to Brazil. The associate, who later cooperated with federal authorities, arranged with Wanzeler's representative in Brazil to launder cash through Hong Kong, convert it to Brazilian reals, and then transfer it to Brazilian accounts.

Rocha in January worked as a cash courier on Wanzeler's behalf, flying from Brazil to New York City and then later meeting with the cooperating witness in Hudson. Rocha gave the witness a suitcase containing $2.2 million of Wanzeler's proceeds from the pyramid scheme with the intent of helping him launder the cash out of the country.

Agents then followed Rocha to an apartment in Westborough where he was arrested. Authorities found $20 million in cash hidden inside a mattress box spring, according to the government.

Wanzeler and co-founder James Merrill were indicted in July 2014, but the former remains a fugitive. Merrill pleaded guilty to charges in March and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Rocha faces a prison term of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines of at least $250,000. He will be subject to deportation hearings.

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