Currently facing extradition proceedings, Radu Nemes and his wife, Diana, have been accused of conspiring with high-ranking officials in the Romanian government in a profitable tax dodge. The Nemes have extensive properties in Yelm - federal investigators now contend they used laundered money to pay for a $3 million log home, and were running a number of shell businesses in Washington.
The Nemes were arrested in early March and have been jailed since as federal prosecutors seek to have the couple returned to Romania. Diana Nemes, a 38-year-old currently pregnant with her third child, is fighting to be released from custody.
Recently unsealed statements to the court show an FBI-led investigation is ongoing into a money-laundering scheme the Nemes and others are suspected of operating in Western Washington. Neither has been charged publicly with any offenses in the United States.
According to court papers, investigators searching the couple's 53-acre Yelm property discovered a "fully equipped and furnished underground bunker" that could be sealed from the inside.
"That bunker could comfortably have housed the entire family for months if not years, given the supply of food found in storage in that structure," Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Barbosa said in court papers.
FBI agents searching the Nemes home found four pistols and two rifles, including an AR-15-style assault rifle, according to prosecutors' statements. As non-immigrant visitors, neither Nemes is allowed to possess firearms.
Arresting the couple on March 18, FBI agents searched the couple's Vail Road Southeast property, as well as a neighboring property occupied by two associates. Investigators came to believe the couple had buried boxes of gold "liberty" coins on the properties and returned with ground-penetrating radar.
Working with Romanian authorizes, the FBI's Seattle division began investigating the Nemes in 2012 after it was discovered they were living in Yelm.
Anti-corruption officials in Romania contend Radu and Diana Nemes cheated the government out of $68 million in taxes due on nearly 1 million tons of diesel fuel. The couple is alleged to have conspired with high-ranking Romanian finance officials to perpetrate the fraud.
Investigators contend the Nemes laundered the proceeds of the scheme through banks in Dubai and the United States before fleeing Romania. They previously created several businesses in Western Washington, purportedly to aid in money laundering.
The Nemes are alleged to have spent millions in laundered money on construction equipment, gold and real estate, as well as at least one yacht.
Writing the court, Diana Nemes' attorney, Martha Boersch, described the purported scheme as a legitimate tax dispute and claimed the money at issue was earned legally.
"Ms. Nemes and her husband operated several companies in Romania that were highly profitable, and were engaged in lawful commercial activities," Boersch said in court papers.
"At most, there appears to be a tax dispute about the amount of excise tax paid on diesel fuel," the continued. "There is no crime in openly investing the profits of a lawful business in businesses and properties in the United states, and it is insulting for the government to treat the Nemeses as if they were drug dealers who were 'laundering' money."
In a recently unsealed search warrant affidavit, though, a Seattle-based FBI special agent said the couple's finances are "permeated with fraudulent money laundering activity and have been funded primarily, if not exclusively, with the proceeds of their Romanian tax evasion scheme."
The FBI became involved in the investigation in November 2012 after Romanian authorities contacted the bureau's Bucharest attach. Romanian investigators suspected the couple was living in Western Washington.
Charged in Romania with tax crimes, the couple is alleged to have imported automotive diesel masquerading as industrial fuel. That fuel is taxed at a 4 percent the rate of commercially available diesel.
Romanian investigators contend Radu Nemes was helped in the fraud by the nation's top tax collector and his chief deputy, as well as the head of the Romanian customs department. Nemes is believed to have bribed the men for their assistance.
On July 9, 2012, Romanian investigators swept up the organization, executing 70 search warrants and arresting several conspirators. The web of paperwork supporting the operation unraveled as investigators found homeless people at the heads of several shell companies.
FBI agents in the United States identified several bank accounts apparently controlled by the Nemes, and learned Radu Nemes and a friend frequently traveled with large amounts of cash.
Arriving in the United States in May 2011, Radu Nemes and an associate had more than $41,000 in cash split between the two of them. The day he arrived, Radu Nemes bought a Chevy truck for $31,000; he paid cash for the pickup, handing over a stack of $100 bills.
According to the FBI agent's account, the Nemes passed a $100,000 cashier's check to the owner of a small South Sound pizza chain. That man tried to cash the check; when his bank refused, he deposited it and slowly withdrew the money over several days.
Bank records showed Radu Nemes spent more than $1 million at a Federal Way-based precious metals dealer, buying gold bullion. Investigators believe he bought additional gold from several other coin sellers.
"The Nemes are using the proceeds of their crimes held at banks in Dubai to purchase gold in the United States and later convert the gold back to cash," the FBI agent said in court papers.
Writing the court, the FBI agent said the Nemes have been traveling the United States, flying first class and staying at luxury hotels. In just more than a year, they spent more than $235,000 at designer boutiques and withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
The Nemes appear to have moved their yacht - the Ramaya - to the Americas from the Mediterranean in late 2012. The 70-foot Azimut yacht was sold months later for $2.3 million.
According to search warrant affidavits, the Nemes are suspected of paying $2.8 million in laundered money to the construction firm building a log house on the Yelm property.
Business records indicate the Nemes own parts of a commercial property in Thurston County as well as a winery nearby in Rainier. Both are alleged to have been bought with laundered money, which investigators claim also financed a business operated by the mother of one of Radu Nemes' purported conspirators.
The FBI special agent contends the Nemes also used a trust account belonging to a Los Angeles attorney to further clean their dirty money. An attorney with the firm is alleged to have represented herself as an executive with one of Radu Nemes' businesses.
All told, they moved more than $3 million through the trust account, which is generally meant to house payments to or from an attorney's clients.
Agents searching the Nemes' properties seized most of their valuables, including 21 boxes packed with silver coins, more than a dozen cell phones, seven vehicles and a riding lawnmower. Also seized was a large quantity of building materials, including a collection of solar panels apparently for use on the log house.
The Nemes remain jailed. Publicly accessible court records don't show any charges against the 10 men and women living in the United States suspected of assisting them.