Judge skeptical of money laundering allegation

LARAMIE (WNE) — A federal judge has expressed skepticism about an asset forfeiture case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne that involves a Laramie restaurant.

Prosecutors in Wyoming U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassan’s office have suggested that Almanza Mexican Food in Laramie helped launder money for drug cartels.

Almanza is not a party to the case, but federal prosecutors have described the restaurant and its former bank accounts as being a part of a laundering scheme by Colorado-based food distributor “El Potosino,” which prosecutors have described as a drug front.

However, federal judge Alan Johnson, who’s handling the case, has said in several recent court filings that he “agrees that the complaint is largely conclusory.”

The complaint filed against various Mexican restaurants in Casper and Cheyenne relies largely on speculation.

Federal prosecutors don’t offer direct evidence of laundering. Instead, they rely mostly on circumstantial evidence, like the fact that restaurants in question often paid El Potosino in “round numbers” and the restaurants would often pay El Potosino in cash.

However, Johnson has declined to dismiss the cases, brought against 17 bank accounts, noting that the U.S. must meet a fairly low bar at trial — it only needs to prove by “the preponderance of evidence” that there exists a “substantial connection between the property and the offense.”

In the year leading up to Feb. 3, 2017, a bank account for Almanza issued 59 checks, totaling $268,058, to El Potosino.

In July, the U.S. seized $1.5 million from bank accounts that allegedly were used to launder El Potosino’s money.


Rock Springs eyes ordinance to ban ‘vape’ sales to minors

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — When city ordinances governing “public morals and decencies last received a major overhaul in 1963, some modern-day concerns were unimaginable. While Rock Springs lawmakers prohibited the sale of liquor or tobacco to minors, they didn’t envision electronic cigarettes that deliver vaporized liquid nicotine in lieu of tobacco smoke.

Now the Rock Springs City Council is updating the laws to prohibit the sale, gifting, use and possession of e-cigarettes to people under 18.

Before the revised ordinance passed second reading at Tuesday night’s council meeting, students, administrators, and school resource officers spoke in favor of this move.

“Vaping and cellphones are the two biggest distractions that we have,” Rock Springs Junior High School Principal Kristeen Cundall said. She noted that advancements in technology make it easier for vaping students to conceal their habit.

Cpl. Tony Hall with the Rock Springs Police Department said that e-cigarette use has grown over the past five years, becoming more popular with young people than regular cigarettes, and is now prevalent in middle school students.

While new laws won’t stop underage use, Hall said the revised ordinance would add “another layer of intervention.” The revision proposes a maximum fine of $750, which Councilman David Halter noted is within the range of penalties for other misdemeanor offenses.


Two killed in accident near Thermopolis

THERMOPOLIS (WNE) — On March 19, a fatal crash occurred at milepost 128 on US 20 south of Thermopolis, Wyoming. Around 1:10 a.m., Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were dispatched to the area for a one-vehicle rollover.

A 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was traveling southbound on US 20 when the vehicle failed to negotiate a curve to the left and went off the right side of the roadway.

The Chevrolet crossed through a guardrail and down a steep embankment before coming to a rest on the railroad tracks below.

The driver of the Chevrolet has been identified as 17-year-old Thermopolis resident Kable Schroeder, who was wearing his seatbelt and was transported to the Hot Springs Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to injuries sustained in the crash.


From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers