US Citizen Laundered South American Drug Cartel Money in Guatemala Casinos


A US citizen pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom Monday to laundering money for South American drug cartels, partly through two casinos he owned in Guatemala.

Xizhi Li
Xizhi Li
Xizhi Li, pictured, allegedly entertained fellow gangsters at his casinos in Guatemala City. (Image: Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

Xizhi Li, 48, is accused of washing at least $30 million for drugs gangs, including the notorious Sinaloa Cartel and its former leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

According to prosecutors, Li played a “leadership role” in a years-long conspiracy that used “a foreign casino, foreign and domestic front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false passports, and other false identification documents to launder money on behalf of transnational drug-trafficking organizations whose main drug-trafficking activities involved cocaine.”

Moving Money

China-born, naturalized US citizen Li is a former LA restaurateur who most recently lived in Mexico. With co-conspirator Eric Yong Woo, he bought the Golden Video Loteria and Golden MGM casinos in Guatemala City.

According to an unnamed confidential federal witness, as well as using the casinos to launder money, the men went into the gambling business “to show drug cartel representatives that they were wealthy businessmen” and “were capable of successfully moving drug money, and that if the money was seized, they would be capable of repaying.”

Prosecutors said the casinos were also a place to entertain fellow gangsters and “make new drug trafficking and money laundering contacts,” while acting as a convenient place to store weapons.

Another co-conspirator, Chinese national Tao Liu, 46, of Hong Kong, was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in prison for his role in the conspiracy. Liu collected bulk drug cash on behalf of Li, which he later deposited into accounts controlled by Li.

Lui also attempted to bribe an undercover DEA agent posing as a corrupt US State Department official in an effort to obtain US passports for members of the gang,

Public Danger

“This prosecution demonstrates the enormous value of collaborating with agencies across the government and with our international partners to dismantle and hold accountable transnational criminal organizations that pose a significant danger to the public,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“The far-reaching conspiracy in this case involved the laundering of millions of dollars of illegal proceeds on behalf of transnational drug-trafficking organizations through the use of a casino, front companies, foreign and domestic bank accounts, false identification documents, and bulk cash smuggling.

“We greatly appreciate the essential and innumerable contributions from our partner agencies, all of whom worked closely together to thoroughly follow the facts and evidence that led to the unraveling of this multimillion-dollar money-laundering scheme.”

Li will be sentenced on October 26. He faces up to 20 years in prison on a charge of money laundering conspiracy.

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