Ex-corrections officer pleads guilty to money laundering charges in drug case

Posted: Updated:
By Sarah Blais By Sarah Blais

PHOENIX -- A former Arizona Department of Corrections officer has pleaded guilty to money laundering charges stemming from an investigation that found marijuana trafficking proceeds being funneled through bank accounts.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office said Bernardo Varela, 35, pleaded guilty on Jan. 8. He will be sentenced Feb. 14 in Cochise County Superior Court.

Varela was indicted with various members of his family including his wife, Guadalupe Varela, his mother-in-law, Artemisa Aguayo, and brother-in-law, Jose Jesus Guerrero.

The investigation revealed that Guerrero was responsible for the shipment of marijuana all over the country. The proceeds of these drug sales were knowingly being funneled into the bank accounts of his mother, sister and brother-in-law, as well as other associates and family members, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Deposits of large amounts of cash were made in other states and withdrawn in Arizona by these family members and associates.  

Varela resigned from the Department of Corrections after investigators interviewed him on Jan. 18, 2013. During the interview, he admitted opening a bank account at the direction of his brother-in-law and said he knew the money running through this account was the proceeds of illegal activities.

Various family members of Guerrero also opened bank accounts and knowingly assisted in laundering the proceeds of drug sales, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Several other individuals involved in the investigation, including Aguayo and Guadalupe Varela, have already been convicted of money laundering. Criminal proceedings against Guerrero are ongoing.  

The investigation was conducted by the Border Crimes Section of the Attorney General's Office, Douglas Police Department and the Arizona Department of Corrections.