The Real Deal Miami

Miami financial adviser pleads guilty in Petroecuador money laundering case

Some of the laundered money was allegedly used to purchase South Florida real estate
By Keith Larsen | September 12, 2018 12:30PM

321 W Rivo Alto Drive, 110 Venetian Way and 2627 S Bayshore Drive

A Miami financial adviser pleaded guilty for his role in an international money laundering scheme where top officials of Ecuador’s state oil company allegedly used some of the proceeds to buy South Florida real estate.

Jose Larrea pleaded guilty in Miami on Tuesday before a U.S. District Judge to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office. The plea is part of an ongoing investigation into an extensive bribery scheme used to pay several Petroecuador and other Ecuadorian government officials in order to secure contracts, according to a court motion.

Larrea admitted to conspiring with his co-defendant, Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda, a dual U.S. and Ecuadorian citizen who also lives in Miami, as well as others to conceal the proceeds of the scheme, including bribes paid to Petroecuador officials, the release said.

Federal officials said Larrea admitted to wiring more than $1 million from his own U.S.-based bank account to other U.S. bank accounts. Larrea made the wire transfers to conceal a bribery scheme in an attempt to retain existing contracts and win new business with Petroecuador. Larrea’s attorney, Ana Davide, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Larrea is now the fourth person to plead guilty in the case. Two former officials of Petroecuador, who received bribe payments, and a contractor have pleaded guilty so far for their connections to the illegal activity. One of the former officials, Marcelo Reyes Lopez, was sentenced in July to four years and five months in prison for his role in the scheme.

Lopez allegedly bought six South Florida properties with the laundered money between 2013 and 2014 for a total of $3.5 million, according to court documents. The properties are:

  • 11316 Northwest 79th Lane, Doral: a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house
  • 14340 Southwest 156th Avenue, Miami: a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house
  • 16711 Collins Avenue, Unit 1902, Sunny lsles Beach: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo
  • 605 South Ocean Drive, Hollywood: a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house
  • 609 South Ocean Drive, Hollywood: a multifamily complex
  • 345 Monroe Street, Unit 1-4, Hollywood: a multifamily complex

Larrea’s codefendant, Chatburn, was charged in April with one count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, one count of violating the act, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of money laundering. Chatburn has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is currently set for Oct. 15.

Federal prosecutors are trying to seize three properties tied to Chatburn: a five-bedroom home at 110 Venetian Way in Miami Beach, a five-bedroom house at 321 West Rivo Alto in Miami Beach and a two-bedroom condo at 2627 South Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove.

Larrea’s guilty plea follows another ongoing money laundering investigation. In that case, federal officials are alleging top executives of Venezuela siphoned $1.2 billion from its state oil fund, PDVSA, to purchase South Florida real estate. The U.S. Attorney’s Office claims at least 16 pieces of South Florida property are tied to the defendants of that scheme, one of which was a condo in the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles.