In court documents filed Friday, government lawyers said they were conducting a criminal investigation related to allegations of drug money laundering at Wyoming and Colorado fast food restaurants.
The details of the criminal investigation were not made publicly available, and its existence was only revealed by a filing in a civil case asking a judge to halt asset forfeiture proceedings that first brought to light the money laundering allegations against the restaurants, which include Rodolfo’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne, Rolando’s Mexican Grill in Cheyenne and Almanza’s Mexican Food in Laramie.
Although the Laramie restaurant is named in the civil filings, which began in November, the government has not sought the forfeiture of any of its money and an attorney for the restaurant’s owners said his clients strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The civil filings also indicate an account associated with Rolando’s Mexican Grill closed before law enforcement began investigating the case.
The restaurants, including those in Colorado, broadly denied the government’s allegations of wrongdoing in the civil case.
Almanza’s and Rolando’s remained open Monday morning. A call to a number listed online for Rodolfo’s went unanswered.
Federal prosecutors had asked a judge to allow them to keep $1.5 million seized from 15 bank accounts and two safe deposit boxes, alleging that money was related to drug trafficking. In a series of civil filings made beginning in November, the government alleged the restaurants were involved in a scheme to use falsified invoices to launder drug money in concert with a Colorado Springs food distributor.
Prosecutors on Friday first filed a modified complaint that extended the time frame of alleged money laundering but did not add any additional defendants. Then, later the same day, they filed a request to halt the forfeiture proceedings for six months. They also filed a corresponding law enforcement officer’s description of the criminal case. The cop’s description is not publicly available for viewing.
However, in the more general request filed Friday, the government asks to halt the civil proceeding while a criminal case — brought against unspecified defendants — continues. Prosecutors say the case has been active “throughout these last couple of months,” but do not make any specific criminal allegations. The prosecutors do state that the cases share common facts, similar criminal offenses, and common parties, although the extent of the the commonalities are not made clear.
The filings ask for a temporary halt to the civil discovery process, during which the restaurants’ lawyers would be allowed to seek more details of the investigation from the government. They state that if discovery in the civil case goes forward, it would compromise law enforcement’s ability to conduct its criminal investigation. They state that if civil defense lawyers were allowed to depose confidential informants, the revelation of those people’s identities would compromise the investigation.
Attorneys for the civil defendants did not have a uniform response to the government’s motion. The filing indicates that some opposed the stay, some were unopposed and one did not respond to a call from the government.