A teller at a San Francisco money services firm has been charged with helping her lover, a Bay Area drug dealer, wire over $22,000 in illicit funds to Mexican accounts, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Yessenia Margarita Barrientos-Lainez, a 42-year-old resident of Daly City, allegedly charged a fee to conduct under-the-table wire transfers for drug dealers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, according to an Oct. 26 criminal complaint filed by U.S. prosecutors. She was fired in mid-May after her employer, a Tenderloin money services business not named in court filings, allegedly caught her leaving the office to retrieve a bag of cash from someone sitting in a car outside.
Now, the U.S. attorney has charged Barrientos-Lainez with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, a crime connected to sending illicit funds abroad. If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
The attorney for Barrientos-Lainez did not reply to a request for comment.
The charges against Barrientos-Lainez come as local, state and federal officials have called for a harsher crackdown on open-air drug dealing in the Tenderloin. The California Highway Patrol has deployed officers to the neighborhood and federal prosecutors are reportedly upping efforts to enforce drug laws. Meanwhile, San Francisco is on track to lose more lives to drug overdoses in 2023 than any year on record, and overdoses are increasingly creeping into neighborhoods beyond the Tenderloin.
Barrientos-Lainez was caught up in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting targeting Tenderloin drug dealers.
In January 2023, an undercover DEA agent began buying drugs from a Tenderloin street-level dealer, according to court filings. After months of making undercover buys, the DEA got a court order that allowed it to intercept communications between this drug dealer, unnamed in the court filings, and his supplier, identified as Co-conspirator 1.
The DEA arrested the dealer and his supplier in June 2023 in Daly City, allegedly catching Co-conspirator 1 with 135 grams of crack cocaine and seizing his cellphone. When asked to provide identification, Co-conspirator 1 gave agents Barrientos-Lainez’s phone number, calling her his wife, according to the court documents. She sent agents a Mexican voter ID card for Co-conspirator 1 with his true name and photo.
However, while the pair did appear to be romantically involved, they are not legally married, and Barrientos-Lainez is, in fact, married to another man, according to the filing.
With Co-conspirator 1’s phone in hand, agents were able to uncover evidence that Barrientos-Lainez was allegedly helping him funnel his drug-dealing earnings to Mexican accounts.
For example, on May 1, Barrientos-Lainez texted Co-conspirator 1, “My boss left,” court documents show. “If you want, send me the information and you can just come to drop off the money.”
Co-conspirator 1 allegedly replied with a photo that contained a series of names and 16-digit numbers, likely bank account numbers.
Later that afternoon, Barrientos-Lainez allegedly texted Co-conspirator 1 photos of a series of receipts for wire transfers totaling $7,000, including two to Sinaloa, Mexico, and one placed in the name of Barrientos-Lainez’s real husband.
Despite a requested fee of $60 for the service, Co-conspirator 1 allegedly passed along $360 to Barrientos-Lainez. She protested that he didn’t have to pay that much for the service.
“I’m just grateful because of the favor, love,” Co-conspirator 1 allegedly replied.
In total, Barrientos-Lainez sent at least $22,000 to Mexico from 2019 to 2023 for Co-conspirator 1, according to a law enforcement review of her employer’s records. However, she often wired money abroad on behalf of Co-conspirator 1 using aliases for him, so the DEA suspects that the true amount she sent on behalf of her lover is likely far greater, according to the court filing.
Barrientos-Lainez worked for the money services company for nine years before her employer allegedly caught her retrieving bags of cash on so-called coffee breaks, wiring the money to various locations in Mexico and pocketing $100 per transaction herself, according to the filing. After she was fired, several people came into the business asking for her specifically, her former employer told law enforcement.
The former clerk was released on a $20,000 bond after appearing in court on Oct. 26, according to the court docket. Her case is ongoing.
Noah Baustin can be reached at email@example.com