Flight attendant, bank employees charged in Chicago drug trafficking operation

A flight attendant and two Indiana bank employees have been charged with assisting Mexican drug traffickers move thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States and laundering tens of millions of dollars.

A federal indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago charged Glenis Zapata, 34, of Lafayette, Indiana with using her access as a flight attendant to help the organization transport drug money on commercial airline flights, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Glenis Zapata possessed a "known crew member" badge, and moved the cash proceeds from the Midwest to the southern U.S. and into Mexico.

The indictment also charged Ilenis Zapata, 33, and Georgina Banuelos, 39, of helping to launder the money. Ilenis Zapata and Banuelos worked together at a Lafayette bank where they allegedly exchanged lower denominated bills for higher denominated bills, and failed to file currency reports for the transactions, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said conspiracy and money laundering charges previously filed against 15 other people were renewed, including the trafficking organization's alleged leader, 41-year-old Oswaldo Espinosa as well as its primary manager, Jorge Borbon-Ochoa, 46, and its Chicago head of operations, Ricardo Tellos, 37.

Espinosa's organization allegedly moved the cocaine in wholesale amounts from Mexico to various U.S. cities, including Chicago, between 2018 and 2023.

The traffickers allegedly used semi-trailer trucks and a private charter airplane, which was seized by federal authorities at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, to ship the drug money, and used warehouses, garages, and stash houses in Chicago to receive and store the cocaine and cash, according to the indictment.

Dates for their arraignments have not yet been scheduled.