Justice Dept. indicts 75 in massive money-laundering operation


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‘Funnel’ bank accounts part of massive money laundering operation

The never-ending challenges of laundering mass amounts of cash has brought down yet another drug-related money-laundering operation, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The investigation netted indictments against 75 individuals charged with laundering cash for Mexican drug cartels.

More than half the indictments were delivered in San Diego, and the rest in locations scattered around the U.S. Indictments and court documents allege that “Jose Roberto Lopez-Albarran, a significant money broker for a Mexican-based international money laundering organization, along with other members of the organization, allegedly laundered tens of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds from the United States to Mexico between 2015 and 2018.”

Authorities seized $6 million in cash and tens of millions worth of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, and cocaine. The massive investigative operation was built upon the work of undercover agents who infiltrated the alleged international money laundering operation and gained status as “money movers” who delivered cash to money brokers who then laundered it through bank accounts and front businesses.

According to the Justice Department, by targeting these money movers, law enforcement was able to discover multiple drug trafficking cells across the United States responsible for importing and distributing substantial quantities of hard drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.

Several of the alleged co-conspirators were charged with directing “money movers to travel throughout the East Coast to collect bulk cash and deposit the bulk cash into domestic bank accounts set up through a web of ‘funnel’ bank accounts,” according the Justice Department press release. “Once the bulk cash was deposited into the funnel bank accounts, co-conspirators…conducted international wire transfers of the funds to Mexican bank accounts associated with false companies in Mexico controlled by the money laundering organization.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge John A. Brown, based in San Diego, lauded the extraordinary level of cooperation and information sharing across states and jurisdictions that helped bring about the indictments: “These types of complex investigations, spanning across the nation and our international boundaries, requires a fundamental change in how we share information, coordinate and collaborate.   These joint investigations, where shared awareness and decentralized execution was the norm, can and must be how we disrupt these drug trafficking and money laundering networks in the future.”

That call for a commitment to new levels and methods for information sharing among authorities, law-enforcement organizations, and financial institutions has gained more and more traction as money laundering and associated criminal activities have reached higher and higher levels of global reach and technical sophistication.

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