Eight people have been indicted in connection to a years-long money laundering conspiracy dating back to 2012 that appears to have come to light when one of the alleged conspirators was arrested in Douglas last summer while transporting six undocumented immigrants and a corpse.
Michael William Bernal worked as a mortuary transporter when he was federally charged in July 2020 with transportation of illegal aliens for financial gain. He is set to stand trial in that case May 4 at the U.S. District Court in Tucson.
During a post-Miranda statement after his human smuggling arrest, Bernal told agents he engaged in the human smuggling to “pay off a debt to the cartel in Agua Prieta.” The debt, he said, involved his failed attempt to bring drugs into the United States at the Douglas Port of Entry years before.
On March 29, Bernal and seven other defendants were named in a state grand jury indictment which alleges they each engaged in various felonies between May 2012 and June 2019. The cases will be prosecuted by the Rachel Heintz of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in front of Judge Timothy Dickerson of the Cochise County Superior Court.
Bernal, 35, is charged with money laundering, conspiracy, and conducting an illegal enterprise, as is Mercedes Gomez Barrios, 50; Larissa Flores Durazo, 26; Ana Karen Samaniego, 24; Ana Maria Samaniego, 30; Francisco Javier Samaniego, 29; Jesus Eduardo Samaniego, 27; and Seirrea Ann Arvizu-Jimenez, 28.
Arvizu-Jimenez is also charged with transportation of marijuana, while Barrios, Durazo, Ana Karen Samaniego, and Eduardo Samaniego will stand trial on additional charges of forgery and fraudulent schemes. All of the defendants list Douglas addresses except Arvizu-Jimenez who is listed with a Tucson address.
Warrants have been issued for the arrest of Barrios and Arvizu-Jimenez, but the other six defendants were arraigned earlier this week. They have been ordered to appear May 24 for a pretrial hearing, although it is not yet determined if all the defendants will stand trial together.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Gomez Barrios and Arvizu-Jimenez is asked to call the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office at 520-432-9502.
Court records show Bernal was arrested near the border in 2009 while trying to bring about 50 pounds of marijuana into the United States. He served 60 days in federal custody for that offense, and claims to have been physically assaulted in the months after his release due to the loss of the marijuana.
Bernal also claimed he engaged in a 2011 drug run after two men threatened to burn down his family’s home if he did not cooperate. He was caught again at the border and was sentenced to time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons followed by three years of supervised released.
The supervised release portion of Bernal’s sentence was to expire in December 2015, but he agreed to a one-year extension after he was found to have violated his release condition by using cocaine.