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Bank Insider Charged with Obstruction after Making False Statements to Agents About Accepting Bribes

NEWARK, N.J. – A Florida-based employee of an international financial institution was arrested today for obstruction of justice after making false statements to agents about accepting bribes, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Gerardo Fermin Aquino Vargas, 38, of Hollywood, Florida, is charged by complaint with one count of obstruction of justice. Aquino had his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jared M. Strauss in Miami, Florida federal court and was released on $100,000 bond.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Aquino worked for an international financial institution at a branch located in Hollywood. Starting in April 2022, Aquino repeatedly and corruptly accepted bribes from individuals in exchange for opening accounts in the names of straw owners who were not present at the account openings. In exchange for the bribes, Aquino also issued debit cards for these accounts and unblocked debit cards that had been flagged for potential fraud by the financial institution. These accounts were used to transfer millions of dollars from the United States to Colombia.

When Aquino was interviewed by law enforcement in November 2023, he made false statements, including that he had only opened one or two accounts when the purported owners were not present at the bank and that he had never received payment for such actions. In fact, Aquino opened at least 28 accounts in this manner and accepted thousands of dollars in bribes for doing so. Aquino’s false statements obstructed a grand jury investigation being conducted in the District of New Jersey.

The charge of obstruction carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary gain that any persons derived from the offense, or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary loss sustained by any victims of the offense, whichever is greatest.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents and task force officers of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Tammy Tomlins in Newark; special agents and task force officers of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Denise Foster in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and special agents of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General, New York Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Patricia Tarasca with the investigation leading to the charges. He also thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida; U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta, Georgia; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation in Miami, Florida; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General, South Florida Division; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, Florida; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida for their assistance with the investigation.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marko Pesce of the Economic Crimes Unit in Newark and Trial Attorneys D. Zachary Adams, Chad Davis, and Chelsea Rooney of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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