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Tijuana Councilman on Trial in SD Could be Free for Case

January 6, 2017

By Alexandra MendozaIMG_2661

A Tijuana Councilman, being held in San Diego for purportedly laundering money, could be set free for the remainder of his trial after a California judge reduced his bail this week from the $5 million requested by the prosecution to $300,000.
Luis Torres Santillan, age 37,  is accused, together with thirteen other suspects, of being part of an organization that smuggled more than $10 million dollars from Mexico into the U.S., revealed one of the prosecutors assigned to the case.
“We have an organization that laundered money; in the case of Mr. Torres, we believe that he made something like 18 deposits between July 2015 and July 2016 totaling close to $675,000,” stated Deputy District Attorney John Dunn.
The Councilman, who requested and was granted a temporary leave of absence from his position, was a customer of a currency exchange company under investigation by federal agencies for possible smuggling of proceeds from illegal activities from Mexico into U.S. banks and then wiring them back to Mexico.
Judge David J. Danielsen agreed to reduce the bail after hearing arguments from defense attorney Anthony Colombo, who presented that his client was an upstanding citizen who has never been arrested before and has close ties to the community.
Colombo also argued that the Councilman has the support of Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum, who publicly praised Torres. The latter had only been in office 16 days when he was detained.
Money laundering cases are normally heard in Federal Court; however, this case contained elements that allowed it to be heard in State Court.
“Here in this region, like anywhere else in California, we, the state prosecutors, also have the same authority. This case could have gone to Federal Court, but for several legal and investigative reasons the case came to us, the District Attorney’s Office,” said San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Spokesman Jesse Navarro.
For the court to accept the bail payment, the defense must prove that the money used was legally obtained, added Navarro.
The Councilman’s attorney seemed calm after the bail amount was reduced, and said he was confident that they will prove that any money sent to Mexico on his client’s behalf was all done legally, and was actually sent to pay suppliers for his family-owned business.
Torres Santillan owns a grain distribution business that, according to his attorney, hired the currency exchange company to make his deposits in the U.S. because they could offer him a better rate when converting Mexican pesos to U.S. dollars.
The court has set the next hearing for February 9, at which time more information about the case is expected to be presented.
“Due to the amount of evidence and the complexities of the case – there are bank records, recordings – both parties agreed that we needed more time to collect information,” said defense attorney Anthony Colombo.

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