ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The former Albuquerque firefighter accused of laundering money for the Sinaloa drug cartel pleaded guilty Thursday to one of the federal charges against him.
Steve Chavez, one of 15 defendants originally charged with 29 crimes, pleaded guilty to a single count admitting he structured financial transactions to hide nearly $200,000 for the cartel by filtering it through several different bank accounts.
With the plea agreement he faces up to 2 1/2 years in prison, must pay $182,000 in restitution and will forfeit the funds in four of his bank accounts.
Chavez's attorney Jason Bowles said the plea agreement was a good resolution for both sides. While Chavez was charged with all the crimes as the other alleged players, his role was minor, he added.
Bowles called Chavez a low-level member of the operation.
That operation trafficked drugs from Mexico through New Mexico and other states and into Florida, according to investigators. The alleged ringleader lived in Albuquerque.
KRQE News 13 asked why Chavez suddenly decided to change his plea.
"He would like to start a new course," Bowles said. "He will start paying the money back in full and serve his time and just wants to move on and start over."
Bowles said Chavez has been working in the construction field since his arrest and has been saving money to pay the restitution. Chavez will continue doing that once he serves his time and pay the money back over time, the attorney added.
Chavez will be sentenced in the next few months. He was fired from the Albuquerque Fire Department shortly after his arrest in January 2012.
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