Records: Tampa lawyer helped undercover agents hide supposed drug money

- It sounds like an episode of Breaking Bad, but a Tampa lawyers faces some real trouble after helping undercover agents set up bank accounts to hide money they told him was proceeds from a drug operation. 

Attorney Joe Manuel Gonzalez, who was awarded the Matilda Martinez Garcia Leadership Award in May, pleaded guilty this week to structuring financial transactions to avoid currency reporting requirements. 

According to the plea agreement, Gonzalez, who had his own law practice in Tampa, helped clients make fake bank accounts. He was caught when he helped two undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents set up an account for what they said was profit from their marijuana growing operation.

The undercover agents posed as brothers and told Gonzalez they were making upwards of $50,000 a month and needed somewhere safe to put their money. The agents said Gonzalez told them how to make deposits into an account to avoid detection by law enforcement. 

Gonzalez set up a bank account for the undercover agents in the name of a fake trust, and made an initial deposits with what Gonzalez understood to be proceeds from the marijuana business. On two occasions, Gonzalez structured the cash provided to him by the undercover agent, breaking up the bank deposit into separate transactions under $10,000 to avoid the currency reporting requirements and to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Gonzalez, 66, of Tampa, faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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