Maui man guilty of
laundering drug money

Michael Ritter could get up to
20 years in prison for the charge

A Maui man pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges of conspiring to launder millions of dollars in drug-trafficking funds involving tons of marijuana from Southeast Asia.

Federal prosecutors said Michael Ritter, 55, also pleaded guilty to filing a false income tax return by excluding money generated by smuggling at least a dozen "multi-ton loads" of marijuana into the western United States from Thailand during the past two decades.

Prosecutors said that according to court documents, one shipment that Ritter helped launder money for in 1986 involved three tons of marijuana worth about $5.5 million.

Prosecutors said Ritter's part in the operation involved him depositing $2.5 million in drug-trafficking profits into accounts in Hong Kong and the Isle of Man to hide the money's origins.

Prosecutors said Ritter's most recent withdrawal from those accounts took place in 1997 when he took out about $200,000. However, when Ritter filed tax returns the next year, he did not disclose that income, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Ritter allegedly also did not close the Hong Kong account until 2002, prosecutors said.

Ritter faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the money-laundering conspiracy charge.

He also faces up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine for not disclosing to the Internal Revenue Service that he had income that was derived from foreign bank accounts.

As part of the plea agreement, Ritter also forfeited $1 million in cash that prosecutors said represented the current value of the remaining assets involved from the money-laundering operations.

Ritter is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway at 3 p.m. Nov. 1. The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Thomas.


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