Wanzeler accomplice caught with $20 million under mattress
As the years drag on, how TelexFree mastermind Carlos Wanzeler has been supporting himself in Brazil has been a bit of mystery.
Insight into Wanzeler’s plans for the future have finally been revealed, following the arrest of a Brazilian national in Massachusetts.
Our story begins with Carlos Wanzeler’s nephew.
According to Homeland Security, Wanzeler’s nephew
was himself a participant (in TelexFree), helped Wanzeler run the company, and also actively participated in laundering TelexFree funds.
Wanzeler’s nephew has been interviewed by US and Brazilian authorities but denies his involvement in laundering TelexFree funds.
According to an affidavit filed by a Special Agent with Homeland Security, US authorities have exchanging information with Brazilian Federal Police for some time.
In or about August 2015, the BFP told HSI that, as a result of data retrieved from a cellular telephone belonging to Wanzeler and other information, BFP had learned that in or about October 2014 Wanzeler sent three people from Brazil to the United States to pick up money and return to Brazil (presumably TelexFree proceeds Wanzeler had been forced to leave in the United States when he fled in April 2014).
One of these people was Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha (right).
In mid 2015 an intermediary working for Carlos Wanzeler contacted an individual about laundering TelexFree funds out of the US.
The intermediary asked for help getting bulk cash out of the United States by laundering the money through Hong Kong accounts, using it to buy Brazilian reals, and moving the funds to Brazil.
The indvidual wasn’t working with the US government at the time, but began cooperating as a government witness in October, 2015.
That same month he contacted the intermediary
and told her that he could indeed help move the money out of the United States.
Following this, the witness was contacted by Wanzeler’s nephew.
In October 2015, the witness met in Brazil with the intermediary and Wanzeler’s nephew, who the intermediary referred to as her “boss.”
The witness reiterated his ability to safely transfer large sums internationally.
Wanzeler’s nephew said he would have to talk to his own boss and get back to the witness.
Agents believe that this “boss” is Carlos Wanzeler, the nephew’s uncle.
Wanzeler was looking to launder about $40 million in stolen TelexFree funds out of the US.
Over the next several months the witness had conversations with the intermediary and Wanzeler’s nephew about moving the money out of the United States.
The intermediary told the witness that the money needed to be moved because Wanzeler’s wife (still in the United States) was filing for divorce and knew where the money was located.
In January 2016, Wanzeler’s nephew and the witness discussed moving money out of the United States in increments of $1,000,000.
The witness and Wanzeler’s nephew continued to communicate throughout January of 2016, primarily through encrypted messaging apps.
Funds intended to be laundered were referred to as “steaks”.
In February Wanzeler’s nephew cancelled plans to launder the funds. Subsequent plans put in place were also cancelled throughout the first half of 2016.
Wanzeler’s nephew eventually found two brothers to deliver funds from Brazil to the US.
One of the brothers was Cleber Rene Rizerio Rocha.
After delays and further cancellations throughout the second half of 2016, eventually a January 2017 date was agreed upon.
In late December 2016, Wanzeler’s nephew contacted the witness to set up another attempt to deliver cash to the witness for transfer out of the United States.
In the last week of December 2016, Wanzeler’s nephew told the witness that the meeting would take place at the 99 Restaurant in Hudson, Massachusetts.
On or about December 31, 2016, agents were alerted that Rocha had entered the United States, through JFK Airport in New York.
Upon arrival, he told Customs officials that he was visiting New York for one week for his honeymoon.
On January 3, 2017, Wanzeler’s nephew also told the witness that the man the witness would meet would use the name “Pete” and wear a red jacket.
The witness would use the name “John” and wear a white hat.
The witness would first meet “Pete” at the restaurant bar, after which they would transfer the money from “Pete’s” car to the witness’.
The witness was never allowed to have direct contact with “Pete”; all
communications went through Wanzeler’s nephew, who acted as a conduit between the two parties.
The meeting was eventually set up for noon on January 4, 2017.
Before that time, the witness and Wanzeler’s nephew established that the witness would be driving a white Lexus, while “Pete” would be
driving a red SUV.
Before noon, agents set up surveillance at the 99 Restaurant in Hudson, in anticipation of “Pete’s” arrival, including placing an undercover agent in the bar area near the witness.
At this point, the agents did not know “Pete’s” identity, though suspected that“Pete” would be Rocha, and did not know what kind of vehicle he would be driving.
At approximately noon on January 4, 2017, a red Nissan Pathfinder SUV entered the 99 Restaurant parking lot.
By this point, the witness had not yet himself entered the 99 Restaurant.
“Pete” pulled up near CW, gestured to him, and suggested that they instead go across the street to a supermarket parking lot instead.
At that point, surveillance agents, including an undercover agent in the white Lexus with the witness, identified “Pete” as Rocha.
The undercover agent and witness, in their vehicle, then followed Rocha across the street.
Once both vehicles parked next to each other, Rocha took a medium-sized rolling suitcase from the trunk of the red SUV and transferred it to the trunk of the witness’ white Lexus.
During the transfer, the witness asked Rocha the total amount and whether Rocha counted it.
Rocha confirmed, saying he had counted it and it totaled $2,200,000.
The witness asked Rocha if there would be more this week; Rocha replied that he did not know, he had just been told to drop off the money, and that the witness would have to talk to Wanzeler’s nephew.
The witness also asked if the money was going to Brazil, to which Rocha responded that he did not know about that and that the witness should talk to Wanzeler’s nephew.
Rocha then entered the red SUV and drove away.
HSI agents tailed Rocha to a Walmart and then an apartment complex.
What happened next is of particular interest, given the intermediary’s earlier claim that Katia Wanzeler was intending to file for a divorce.
A short time later, Rocha left the complex and drove to another 99 Restaurant with a woman.
Agents watching the restaurant later saw a red Hummer SUV arrive at the restaurant.
The registration for the SUV came back to Carlos Wanzeler.
A woman fitting the description of Wanzeler’s wife, Katia Wanzeler, exited the SUV and entered the restaurant.
An agent stationed in the restaurant observed the woman with Rocha giving Katia Wanzeler a purse.
Katia Wanzeler then exited the restaurant and drove to a local bank (St. Mary’s Credit Union in Marlborough, Massachusetts).
At the bank, Katia Wanzeler entered the bank with an unidentified female and left about ten minutes later.
The witness and undercover agent meanwhile drove to a prearranged location, where the witness handed over the briefcase and a recording device to waiting agents.
Later that day, the witness texted Wanzeler’s nephew, asking the nephew to call the witness to talk about the amount of money the witness had received.
Wanzeler’s nephew replied that he did not know what the witness was talking about.
A short time later, however, Wanzeler’s nephew did call the witness.
Wanzeler’s nephew asked the witness why he wanted contact. The witness replied that he wanted to confirm the amount.
Wanzeler’s nephew replied that the witness should have 2200 “churasco steaks.”
The witness sought clarification, asking if Wanzeler’s nephew meant, “2,200,000,” in response to which Nephew terminated the call.
HSI agents continued to tail Rocha, eventually arresting him at 4pm on January 4th.
Rocha was arrested at Best Buy Shoppers World Plaza in Natick, Massachusetts.
After his arrest, with the aid of an agent fluent in Portuguese, Rocha was told his Miranda rights, which he waived.
Rocha admitted his role in the operation, telling the agents that he traveled to the United States to facilitate the money transfer on behalf of Wanzeler’s nephew and Wanzeler.
Later that night, the agents searched the Westborough, Massachusetts, apartment Rocha had visited earlier in the day.
Agents located a substantial amount of cash hidden under a mattress.
Rocha told the agents that the money totaled $20,000,000, a figure the agents are still confirming.
Rocha is currently facing up to 20 years in prison. My money is on him continuing to cooperate with authorities and receive a reduced sentence.
To be entrusted with over $20 million, Rocha clearly knows a bit about Wanzeler and his nephew’s operations in Brazil.
As of yet, no word the $40 million Wanzeler wanted to launder out of the US.
Which brings me to Katia Wanzeler.
The legal ramifications of Katia Wanzeler knowing where her husband stashed his TelexFree fortune are unclear. In 2014 Katia was arrested after she was caught trying to flee the US.
It was uncovered Katia had lied to US authorities about the whereabouts of her husband as he fled to Brazil via Canada.
If Katia Wanzeler knew where her husband’s TelexFree stash was all along, that’s probably not going to work out too well for her.
The cynic in me also entertains the possibility that the divorce was a red herring to appear to distance Katia Wanzeler from her husband.
Launder $20 million out of the US, get a divorce, sit tight for a few years and then quietly slink off to Brazil to reunite and live the high life.
Rocha paying Katia off with a purse full of money certainly supports this theory. And you’ve got to wonder how much she’s been paid off since Wanzeler fled in 2014.
It sounds more like the plot of a movie rather than the happenings of the MLM industry… but hey, here we are.
Rocha is set to appear at a detention hearing on January 11th. Stay tuned…
Update 13th January 2017 – Rocha got himself a new lawyer and requested a continuance until January 20th.
The court has granted the request. Rocha will remain in the custody of the US Marshals until the hearing.
Update 16th January 2017 – The January 20th hearing has been rescheduled for January 23rd.
Update 9th February 2018 – On February 8th Cleber Rocha was sentenced to 33 months in prison.