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15 months for money laundering

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque carwash owner who, prosecutors said, laundered money for a large New Mexico drug trafficking ring was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge James Browning handed down the sentence to Jerome Eckstein, 39, as part of a yearslong federal court case. The case stemmed from a 16-month investigation called Operation Rain Check by the FBI in Albuquerque and other federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Jerome Eckstein’s Air Force One Express Car Wash, 6000 Gibson SE. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Jerome Eckstein’s Air Force One Express Car Wash, 6000 Gibson SE. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Eckstein was one of 19 defendants charged in December 2012 after the investigation into a drug ring headed by Christopher Roybal, 35, according to court documents. Roybal was sentenced this year to 14 years in prison for conspiracy to traffic cocaine and money laundering.

Court documents say that Eckstein in 2012 met several times with an undercover FBI agent, a confidential source and Roybal and discussed ways that he could “clean” money to make it appear legitimate, according to court documents.

At one point, the group toured Eckstein’s Air Force One Express Car Wash, 6000 Gibson SE, and considered becoming investors in the business to conceal their money, according to the documents.

The documents say that in 2012 Eckstein accepted money as part of the sting – including a duffle bag containing $100,000 in cash the undercover FBI agent gave him in a parking lot – and that in exchange Eckstein wrote checks to fictional businesses whose bank accounts were controlled by the FBI.

The documents say Eckstein admitted there was a “high probability” the undercover agent had presented himself as a drug dealer.

Jason Bowles, Eckstein’s attorney, asked for probation, saying in a report that Eckstein is a reputable businessman with no criminal history and strong community ties.

Several others, including two retired Albuquerque police officers, wrote the court letters of support in Eckstein’s behalf. Raymond Zamora, a former officer, said Eckstein helped Zamora’s business, in which he teaches children boxing and mixed martial arts.

“As a retired Albuquerque police officer, it has been my training and experience that criminal and bad guys do not volunteer their time with law enforcement,” Zamora said in the letter.

Prosecutors had asked Browning for a sentence of no less than 20 months, according to court documents.

The news release says that 18 of the 19 people arrested during “Operation Rain Check” have pleaded guilty. The other suspect is going through a diversion program, according to the release.

There were several civil asset forfeiture actions in the case, including the seizure of Roybal’s Northwest Albuquerque home and his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, according to court documents.

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