U.S. Agents Laundering Mexican Drug Cartel Profits

According to current and former federal law enforcement officials undercover American narcotics agents have laundered millions of dollars in Mexican drug cartel money.

Agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Agency, have helped ship hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, in an attempt to figure out how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and who their leaders are. The money is deposited in accounts designated by traffickers, or in shell accounts set up by agents. As it launders the drug proceeds, the D.E.A. often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests. Questions are obviously being raised about the agency’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) in bringing down drug kingpins and the whether these actions constitute facilitation of a crime.

Michael S. Vigil, a former senior agency official who is currently working for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel, said, “We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren’t laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”

Another former agency official, who asked not to be identified speaking publicly about delicate operations, said, “My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the D.E.A. could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths.”

Concerns are warranted especially in light of the A.T.F’s operation Fast and Furious in which low-level smugglers were allowed to buy and transport guns across the border in the hope that they would lead to higher-level operatives working for Mexican cartels. After the agency lost track of hundreds of weapons, some later turned up in Mexico; two were found on the United States side of the border where an American Border Patrol agent had been shot to death.

Another former drug agency official offered this explanation for the laundering operations: “Building up the evidence to connect the cash to drugs, and connect the first cash pickup to a cartel’s command and control, is a very time consuming process. These people aren’t running a drugstore in downtown L.A. that we can go and lock the doors and place a seizure sticker on the window. These are sophisticated, international operations that practice very tight security. And as far as the Mexican cartels go, they operate in a corrupt country, from cities that the cops can’t even go into.”

One D.E.A. official said it was not unusual for American agents to pick up two or three loads of Mexican drug money each week. A second official said that as Mexican cartels extended their operations from Latin America to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, the reach of the operations had grown as well. When asked how much money had been laundered as a part of the operations, the official would only say, “A lot.”

“If you’re going to get into the business of laundering money,” the official added, “then you have to be able to launder money.”

Former counternarcotics officials, who also would speak only on the condition of anonymity offered a clearer glimpse into the scale of these operations and how they worked. In some cases, the officials said, Mexican agents, posing as smugglers and accompanied by American authorities, pick up traffickers’ cash in Mexico. American agents then transport the cash on government flights to the United States, where it is deposited into traffickers’ accounts, and then wired to companies that provide goods and services to the cartel.

In other cases, D.E.A. agents, posing as launderers, pick up drug proceeds in the United States, deposit them in banks in this country and then wire them to the traffickers in Mexico.

So far there are few signs that these laundering operations have disrupted the cartels’ operations, as well as little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain. Last year, the D.E.A. seized about $1 billion in cash and drug assets, while Mexico seized an estimated $26 million in money laundering investigations, a minute fraction of the estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in drug money that flows between the countries each year.








1 Comment

  1. Mr. Holder, the next time your agencies talk you into something this stupid, think it through first, then just say no.

    You must have realized you required a total outsider to this as well as your own server provider and programer. The bad part was you even used American citizens let alone cops. Geez.

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