Gerardo Ortiz tour manager Joel Camarena remains in custody after appearing in Federal Court on charges of conspiracy to evade federal reporting requirements; prosecutors have tied the money to a nightclub cocaine operation in North Texas.
Joel Camarena, tour manager for regional Mexican star Gerardo Ortiz, and fellow Del Records employee Armando Banuelos, who is the tour manager for Regulo Caro, also one of Mexican music’s biggest young names, were detained at Dallas Love Field airport last week when TSA agents discovered stacks of cash inside their carry-on bags.
According to reports by the Dallas News and Star-Telegram newspapers, Camarena was carrying $100,000 in a silver backpack, and Banuelos had almost $50,000. Police said that drug-sniffing dogs had detected the scent of narcotics on plastic bags in which the cash was contained.
Camarena, who appeared Tuesday (Jan. 30) before a federal judge, first told police that the $148,050 was payment from several shows that Ortiz had played in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. Banuelos, who was not arrested and was subsequently released, said that he was carrying the money in his bag for Camarena. According to authorities, over $115,000 of the money was not properly accounted for on federal reporting forms.
In a one-sentence declaration to the press on Tuesday (Jan. 30), the Los Angeles-based record label called the arrest a “misunderstanding” that the company’s lawyers “were working to straighten out.”
After the dogs sniffed the bags, Camarena changed his story, according to the Dallas News, which reported that he then told police that some of the money was given to him by a man identified as Martin Salvador Rodriguez, a.k.a "Chava", a manager for a chain of clubs across North Texas that federal authorities say were “drug premises.”
According to authorities, cocaine was sold in the bathrooms of the 40 clubs, owned by Alfredo Navarro Hinojosa, whose company took in over $100 million in revenue between 2014 and 2016. The club owner pleaded guilty last December to drug and money laundering charges and faces up to 25 years in prison. He will also forfeit a Ferrari, a Range Rover, a Hummer, a Mercedes-Benz, a motor home and $200,000, according to court records cited by the Dallas newspaper. Other people, including two former Dallas police officers, were charged in connection with the illegal activity at the clubs.
When Camarena appeared in federal court in Dallas, the prosecutor accused the Del Records employee of “being a messenger in a large money laundering operation.” The judge ruled that Camarena, who lives in Southern California, must remain in custody as the case proceeds since there is a risk that he would flee to Mexico. According to a Univision report, Judge Renee Harris Toliver cited Camarena's "extensive criminal file" and noted he lied to an officer when he said he did not have a passport.
Camarena’s lawyer, William Biggs, argued that Camarena had not had time to process the necessary forms to report the money from Ortiz’s shows to the government.
Maria Del Villar, Camarena’s partner and the sister of Del Records owner Angel Villar, was interviewed at the hearing. According to Univision, the prosecutor pressed her for details about a previous incident in California in which Camarena had been intercepted with a large sum of cash.
Ortiz, who is set to play a string of U.S. concerts in February, said in a statement to the media that he is “aware of the reports about the detention of Joel Camarena. While the authorities make the corresponding inquiries, I limit myself to commenting that my job is to sing and entertain my audience. I let the authorities do their job."