A man with strong ties to the Napa Valley has been indicted in federal court for laundering about $1.2 million from drug trafficking in the United States, Canada and Mexico, according to federal records.
Michael Venuta, a former co-owner of a now-closed health club in Napa who now operates a construction company in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was indicted on Jan. 10 in federal court in Detroit for money laundering and conspiracy, according to court records.
Federal authorities suspect Venuta of laundering money on behalf of multiple organizations suspected of drug trafficking and receiving a cut, according to court records.
Venuta, 53, allegedly brokered “various transactions in which drug trafficking proceeds were transmitted and/or transported across international borders including Mexico, the United States and Canada,” prosecutors said in the indictment.
Venuta’s alleged associates included the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and members of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, according to an affidavit filed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to the indictment, Venuta resides in both Napa and, since 2004, in Mexico.
According to Venuta’s business website, El Rey Construction, Venuta, moved to Napa in 1964 from Los Angeles with his family. In 1977, Venuta took over his father’s construction business. His construction portfolio includes homes and businesses in Napa.
Venuta was first jailed on Jan. 4 in Los Angeles after being named in a criminal complaint that preceded the indictment. A judge ruled that he was a serious flight risk, according to court filings.
The case came to light in April 2011 after a confidential source told federal drug agents that Venuta was allegedly attempting to launder money from drug traffickers, according to an affidavit filed by the DEA.
In December 2011, Venuta allegedly had $52,580 transmitted from HSBC Bank in Cabo San Lucas to JP Morgan Chase Bank in Detroit, according to the indictment. This transfer was intended to “conceal the nature and the source of the fund,” according to the court document. The money’s final destination was Montreal, the government said.
The Detroit account was assigned to an undercover DEA agent, according to an affidavit.
In another incident, Venuta is accused of helping launder $660,000 in drug money from Canada to Mexico in November, the court document stated.
Venuta also allegedly arranged in November to deliver more than $356,300 in drug proceeds through Toronto.
In December 2011 and February 2012, Venuta is also suspected of transferring about $147,500 from HSBC Bank in Cabo San Lucas to JP Morgan Chase Bank in Detroit, the indictment said. The eventual destination for that money, prosecutors alleged, was Montreal.
It is unclear when the next hearing in the case will be. As of Friday, Venuta remained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In 2004 in Napa, Venuta, then a co-owner of the Napa Valley Athletic Club on Soscol Avenue, received two years probation after he and his girlfriend pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace in connection with an incident with an off-duty Napa County Sheriff’s deputy at a store.
In 2005, a federal judge dismissed a civil rights lawsuit Venuta and his then-girlfriend filed against the county over what the plaintiffs said was an improper search warrant of their homes and business in another incident involving a former business partner.