Henry County restaurant owner sentenced for laundering nearly $4.5 million for a Mexican drug cartel

She transferred the sum over about 2.5 years

Bella's Tortillas & Meat Market picture posted to the store's Facebook page (Bella's Tortillas & Meat Market / Facebook)

ROANOKE, Va. – A 48-year-old woman will spend eight years in prison for using her restaurant to fund a Mexican drug cartel.

Ana Bella Sanchez-Rios, the former owner of Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market on A. L. Philpott Highway in Henry County, used her business to launder nearly $4.5 million in profits for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

The U.S. Department of Justice considers the Mexican-based criminal organization to be one of the most dangerous transnational organizations in the world.

Sanchez-Rios contracted with Intermex Wire Transfer LLC and admitted that from 2016 through 2018, she used her shop to launder the drug trafficking proceeds on behalf of CJNG, according to the Department of Justice.

She would receive money from multiple people working for CJNG, which she knew was drug trafficking proceeds, and then wire that money to people in Mexico.

To avoid raising suspicions, she sent the wire transfers in small amounts and used fakes names and addresses when sending the money.

In total, between May 10, 2016, and Sept. 11, 2018, she transferred or caused to be transferred $4,394,959 in the proceeds of drug trafficking via Intermex from Bella’s Tortilla & Meat Market in Martinsville to individuals in Mexico.

In March 2019, Sanchez-Rios and 12 CJNG members were indicted on a variety of federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

In June 2020, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating a business that transmitted criminally derived funds.

“When individuals launder money for a drug cartel, they play critical role for the organization by concealing and transferring illegally-obtained funds, which perpetuates the cartel’s illegal activity and the scourge of the narcotics the cartel pedals,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar.  “Money laundering investigations can be particularly difficult, and I’m proud of the hard work of our federal and state law enforcement partners in bringing Sanchez-Rios to justice.”

“Drug cartels like CJNG perpetrate unspeakable violence across the globe and drive the spread of deadly drugs like fentanyl and heroin,” said Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Washington Division. “We are committed to working with our partners to shut down these violent organizations in our area, often by tracking their illicit proceeds and disrupting these organizations at their bottom line. Today, these criminals’ addiction to money and greed has met its consequence.”

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