Federal prosecutors in Baltimore are seeking civil forfeiture of $1.7 million seized from the recent sale of a commercial ship linked to the Colombian Cali drug cartel and the Sept. 4 shooting death of local shipper John R. Shotto.
The government's complaint, filed late Monday in U.S. District Court here, also seeks the forfeiture of $38,000 in cash that federal agents seized at Baltimore-Washington International Airport three years ago from Ernesto Forero-Orjuela, who has family ties to the Cali cartel.
Forero-Orjuela, a business associate of Shotto's, was not arrested and has not been charged with any crime. But federal authorities are investigating Forero-Orjuela in a probe that includes Shotto's possible involvement with the Cali cartel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Sims alleged in the complaint that there is probable cause to believe the two batches of money should be forfeited to the U.S. government because they "constitute proceeds traceable to the sale or exchange" of illegal drugs.
Sims also alleged that the government believes the $1.7 million is traceable to violations of federal money-laundering laws.
Under federal law, the government can seek forfeiture of assets used in illegal drug activities or purchased with the proceeds of such activities.
Federal agents seized the $1.7 million about 10 days ago at the sale of the M/V Liberty, a 284-foot ship that was sold by Shotto's company, Maryland Ship Inc., in an effort to satisfy creditors in the company's bankruptcy case.
Authorities believe that Shotto's company was a "straw buyer" of the ship, which cost $3.6 million, and that Forero-Orjuela actually financed the purchase through his company, Liberty Shipment Enterprises Inc., so the ship could be used in drug-smuggling activities.
Federal agents seized the $38,000 from Forero-Orjuela on Aug. 3, 1988, when he flew from Baltimore to Miami and back, returning here with a black suitcase that contained $20 bills stacked in groups of $2,000 each.
Drug agents in Florida had reported Forero-Orjuela's trip to authorities here after he was observed visiting Apolo Records, a Miami business that is believed to be a message center for the cartel.
Forero-Orjuela told the agents who stopped him here as he got off the flight from Miami that the money came from his business, Liberty Shipment, and that he had withdrawn it from a bank here before his trip.
The agents seized the cash after determining that Forero-Orjuela had flown to Miami early that morning, within a couple of minutes after the bank opened.
Shotto, 52, of Bel Air, was shot to death Sept. 4 in what city police investigators have called an execution-style slaying as he was leaving a Baltimore warehouse with another man after a meeting.
The other man, Raymond B. Nicholson, 38, of Glenn Dale in Prince George's County, also was killed. Police have said that Nicholson, a vice president of Hechinger Co., was an innocent victim.