Between 2013 and 2016, Juan Pablo Granda, a citizen of Ecuador and former director of operations for NTR Metals Miami, along with two former workers from a Miami-area refinery, took part in a vast money laundering scheme by importing more that $1 billion in illegally mined gold from South America.
It was said through a criminal complaint that three former employees of NTR Metals Miami and several other accomplices from South America helped coordinate the purchase of the illegally mined gold that originated from Peruvian mines controlled by drug traffickers. Prosecutors believe that after the three former NTR employees purchased the gold from mines in the Amazon and arranged for it to be refined at NTR’s Miami refinery, they would process wire transfer payments to send the proceeds back to the drug traffickers in South America. Using gold in money laundering schemes is not uncommon because its standard global price makes it difficult to trace.
US records between 2012 and 2015 show $3.6 billion worth of illegal gold shipped through Latin American countries under the responsibility of Granda and two Miami salesmen using the technique of “smiling and dialing” which allowed the men to find out who was selling gold, create relationships and promote NTR. The other 2 former NTR employees involved in the scheme have been identified as Renato Rodriguez, NTR’s former executive sales director for Latin America, and Samer Barrage, a U.S. citizen born in London who was responsible for NTR’s operations in Miami.
NTR’s internal investigation was initiated after a $304 million gold shipment destined for the U.S. from Peru was stolen and Granda and Rodriguez were ordered to relinquish their cell phones for review. Evidence found revealed text messages between these three men in which Granda bragged about his involvement, comparing himself to the Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.
Granda was detained in Miami at his mother’s home on March 15, after being fired from NTR’s Texas-based parent company and now faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted. Rodriguez was released on a $100,000 bond, but still wants to fight the charges and go to trial according to his defense attorney. Barrage was believed to be fleeing the country while traveling from Miami to Colombia on a four-day business trip after Granda’s arrest so Federal agents flew to Colombia to arrest him on March 23, just as he was returning to Miami. The three men have pleaded not guilty and are waiting for their trial, set for January 2018 while NTR Metals is not being charged in the case.
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