Elderly Pharr woman gets 4 years in money laundering scheme

McALLEN — A 69-year-old woman will spend the next four years in federal prison for her role in a money laundering operation.

Four years after completing half of a 14-year prison sentence, Maria Georgina Salinas was back working for a Mexican drug cartel — this time moving large amounts of U.S. currency from the proceeds of drug sales.

On Tuesday, Salinas stood before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane for her sentencing hearing related to events in late 2015 when federal authorities found her coordinating the movement of hundreds of thousands of U.S. currency from Houston to Mexico, according to the indictment filed against her.

As part of her sentence, Salinas will also serve three years of supervised release upon completion of her prison term.

Salinas accepted responsibility for her role in the operation to move bulk cash and pleaded guilty last September to one of the three money laundering charges — the remaining two counts of money laundering were dismissed as part of the plea agreement with the government, court records show.

Salinas was previously convicted in 2002 in a Corpus Christi federal court, and served time in federal prison in connection with the transport of cocaine.

In that drug case, Salinas was found to be part of a drug trafficking organization that was moving cocaine, but the indictment with specific details outlining her role in that ring remains sealed to this day.

Typically, federal court records remain sealed because the defendant cooperated with government prosecutors and provided information about the drug smuggling operation.

Salinas was released from federal custody on Jan. 7, 2011, after serving seven years of a 14-year prison sentence, bureau of prison records show.

But Salinas could not stay away from a life of crime.

The woman jumped back into business with a cartel just a few years later.

The indictment filed against Salinas on March 2, 2017, cites two incidents in which Salinas was found in possession of large bulk amounts of U.S. currency: $303,390 on Oct. 22, 2015, and $365,850 on Nov. 19, 2015, court record show.

The court noted in one instance Salinas was in possession of bulk of cash in Brownsville, and the second incident took place in Linn, Texas, after Salinas had driven from Houston — in an apparent coordinated effort to try to smuggle cash into Mexico.

Crane also noted Salinas’ adult daughter is currently awaiting drug charges in Houston in a separate unrelated case.

“It’s unfortunate you got involved in this,” Crane told Salinas after sentencing her. “What seemed like easy money turned into a serious issue for you.”

Salinas, through the help of an interpreter, asked for forgiveness from the U.S. government, Crane and her family.

Salinas, who turns 70 in September and suffers from a litany of health issues, specifically with her heart and prior tumors on her body, will be nearly 74 years old at the end of her sentence.

The Pharr native is scheduled to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service on June 1 to begin her prison sentence.