*US FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS SEIZE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF DRUGS DURING THE WEEKEND *
Tuesday March 01, 2011 >
WANTED SA has been informed this morning that the Federal Law Enforcement Agents seized about $12 million in drug cartel money in a series of raids during the weekend.
The money was seized at a time law enforcement officials are refining their techniques for preventing laundered drug money from entering the United States.
The drug raids were staged in cities nationwide by the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Drug Enforcement Agency and others. They arrested nearly 700 people, seized 467 kilos of cocaine, 9 kilograms of heroin, 282 weapons, 94 vehicles and a large amount of marijuana.
All of the drugs and contraband was traced to Mexican drug cartels, according to John Morton, ICE director.
“Through our continued cooperation and coordination with Mexican forces, ICE agents and officers stormed the heart of these organizations, seized drugs, weapons and money that are the fuel for these criminal enterprises,” Morton said.
The operation was called “Fallen Hero” in commemoration of ICE agent Jaime Zapata, who was ambushed and killed Feb. 15 north of Mexico City by drug cartel members. It also coincided with an international conference of bankers in Miami that discussed how to detect and stop laundered drug cartel money from being exported into the United States.
South Florida appears to be one of the new preferred choices for drug cartels to bring laundered money into the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
The money is “laundered” by taking it from illegal transactions and putting it into legal banking institutions, where it is difficult to identify as resulting from a crime. The illegal drug trade is a prime source of the money because the transactions are usually conducted in cash.
As some routes for shifting the money from Central America into the United States become too difficult to get through security, the drug cartels change their entry points, most recently to Florida, said Wilfredo Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney.
Ferrer was a speaker at a conference of the Florida International Bankers Association, which hosted officials from 40 countries.
He warned that other banks could suffer consequences like Wachovia Bank, which paid a $160 million fine last year after getting caught inadvertently laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. Federal prosecutors accused Wachovia of willfully failing to maintain an anti-money laundering program from May 2003 through June 2008, in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act.
The bank failed to monitor potential money laundering activity of more than $420 billion in financial transactions with Latin American institutions suspected of handling drug cartel money, prosecutors said. At least $110 million of it was traced directly to the cartels.
Without close monitoring, criminal organizations always will seek out weaknesses in banks, Ferrer said at the Miami conference.
The laundered money appears to be part of a larger pattern of fraud hitting South Florida that includes mortgage and medical institution scams, Ferrer said.
Other bankers at the conference said the U.S. crackdown on laundered money is switching more of it to Latin American countries. However, banks in Guatemala and other countries that receive the money have limited resources for thoroughly investigating the income sources of their customers.
As a result, their control measures are “like an aspirin for influenza,” said Guillermo Horta, a Federation of Latin American Banks representative who heads anti-money laundering activities for the organization.
Francisco Ruiz, a representative of Colombia’s Bancolombia, said banks in his country use computer databases to generate alerts to bankers about potential money laundering based on “risk factors.”
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