US Political Activist Linked to Russian Agent Charged with Money Laundering, Fraud

Reuters

A conservative U.S. political activist romantically linked to admitted Russian agent Maria Butina has been indicted by a federal grand jury on wire fraud and money laundering charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Dakota said on Wednesday.

Paul Erickson, 56, was indicted on 11 counts of wire fraud and money laundering on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to the charges in an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Moreno, the office said in a statement. Erickson’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Erickson is a well-known figure in Republican and conservative circles and was a senior official in Pat Buchanan’s 1992 Republican presidential campaign.

He was romantically linked to Butina, a 30-year-old native of Siberia, who pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy.

Butina admitted working with a top Russian official to infiltrate the powerful National Rifle Association gun rights group and to make inroads with American conservatives and the Republican Party as an agent for Moscow.

Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington, had publicly advocated for gun rights. She was the first Russian to be convicted of working to influence U.S. policy during the 2016 presidential race.

Erickson’s indictment did not specifically refer to Butina by name, but it indicates he made a payment of $8,000 to an “M.B.” in June 2015 and another payment of $1,000 to “M.B.” in March 2017. The indictment also indicates he paid American University $20,472.09 in June 2017.

The indictment against Erickson alleges that between 1996 and 2018, Erickson made “false and fraudulent representations” to people in South Dakota and elsewhere about his business schemes in an effort to convince potential investors to give him money, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Erickson owned and operated Compass Care Inc, Investing with Dignity LLC, and an unnamed venture to develop land in the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count as well as possible fines, the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He was released on bond, and no date has been set for a trial.

Iran rejects EU trade, anti-money laundering link

By AFP

Iran on Tuesday ruled out linkage between a new EU mechanism to trade with Tehran bypassing US sanctions and an anti-money laundering bill.

“Linking implementation of this mechanism… with the requirements of institutions such as the FATF is unacceptable,” the foreign ministry said, referring to the international Financial Action Task Force.

Iran is on an FATF blacklist drawn up to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorist groups, but the Paris-based organisation has suspended counter-measures since 2017 while Tehran works on reforms.

EU leaders on Monday welcomed the bloc’s new mechanism to trade with Iran but warned Tehran over its ballistic missile programme and regional policies while calling for it to implement reforms to comply with FATF demands.

Britain, France and Germany created the system last week to allow firms to trade with Iran without falling foul of US sanctions.

The foreign ministry, in its statement, welcomed the EU’s “positive stances” but also criticised the bloc’s warnings on its missile programme and its regional policies.

“Iran´s defence activities… are merely defensive, deterrent and a domestic matter that has never been on the agenda of our negotiations with other countries,” it said.

“Raising such issues under current regional circumstances and clear threats against the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not constructive,” the ministry said.

It urged European countries “to take a realistic look at regional incidents and issues and not to be influenced” by the United States.

Brussels, for its part, hopes the special payment mechanism for trade with Iran — registered under the name INSTEX — will help save the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.

Washington has reimposed sanctions after President Donald Trump last year quit the accord which lifted the measures in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran has welcomed INSTEX as a “first step”, while US officials have said it would not affect its efforts to exert economic pressure on Tehran.

San Antonio man due in court Tuesday in money laundering case involving luxury cars

By Guillermo Contreras

One of two defendants charged in a money laundering case involving more than 100 exotic and luxury cars that were seized is scheduled for hearings Tuesday to determine whether law officers had enough probable cause to arrest him, and whether he qualifies for bail.

Jose Luis Magallon Jr., 28, is accused of laundering more than $200,000 in a series of undercover law enforcement sting operations.

Magallon is the owner of Magallon Enterprises LLC, an exotic and luxury used auto dealership in San Antonio, but court records accuse him of being a launderer for a drug trafficking organization from Michoacán, Mexico.

Magallon allegedly dealt with an undercover agent who posed as a transporter of large amounts of drug cash, and flashed several high-end cars that were part of Magallon’s money laundering operation, a criminal complaint affidavit said. The affidavit also alleges that other people helped Magallon disguise his money laundering under layers of fronts.

Agents did not raid Magallon’s business, but used him to get to a co-defendant, Karen Mgerian, who was willing to launder larger amounts, according to court records. Mgerian, 40, allegedly laundered $575,000 for undercover agents acting as drug cartel operatives, and was in negotiations to launder another $4.7 million, according to court records.

Agents last Thursday raided Mgerian’s car lot, MGM Auto, near Rittiman and Interstate 35, and an auto body location he allegedly controlled called Odadi Auto near Stahl Road. They also raided his home in Stone Oak and a home Magallon rented near Perrin-Beitel and Loop 410.

Mgerian initially had been scheduled to have his bail hearing Tuesday but it has been rescheduled to Feb. 13, records show.

U.S. charges top Chinese cellphone maker Huawei with money laundering, fraud

By Pete Williams and Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced criminal charges against one of China’s largest telecommunications companies Monday, a dramatic move that promises to ratchet up tensions on the eve of trade talks this week between the two countries.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told reporters in Washington a pair of indictments had been unsealed in two separate cases. A Brooklyn grand jury charged Huawei as a company, and its chief financial officer, Wanzhou Meng, with money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Huawei also was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

A separate indictment accuses Huawei of stealing trade secrets from U.S. telecom firm T-Mobile. Those charges stem from a civil lawsuit filed by T-Mobile in 2014 over a robot called “Tappy,” which was used in testing smartphones.

“Huawei intentionally conspired to steal intellectual property from an American company in an attempt to undermine the free and fair marketplace,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Meng, who was arrested in Canada in December, is accused of orchestrating a scheme to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The Brooklyn indictment says Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Meng misled U.S. banks into believing that Hawei had no interest in the Hong Kong company, called Skycom, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment also charges Huawei with conspiracy to obstruct justice by destroying evidence and moving employees out of the U.S. so they could not be called as witnesses.

Meng is a daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, who served as an engineer in the People’s Liberation Army from 1974 to 1983. The U.S. is seeking her extradition.

“For over a decade, Huawei employed a strategy of lies and deceit to conduct and grow its business,” said Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the charges “lay bare Huawei’s alleged blatant disregard for the laws of our country and standard global business practices.”

Huawei (pronounced “Wah-way”) is second only to Samsung as the world’s largest supplier of smartphones and has been heavily involved around the world in building the next generation of cellphone networks, known as 5G. The Trump administration has been pushing other countries to exclude the firm from that work, citing security risks.

Last year, six different U.S. intelligence agencies urged Americans not to buy Huawei phones — which are virtually unavailable in the U.S. And President Donald Trump signed a law blocking federal government agencies from using most of the company’s products.

The indictment against a leading Chinese company — and the harsh language senior Trump administration officials used to characterize its conduct — mark a sea change from the Obama administration, which was careful in how it characterized Chinese behavior, even as it secretly saw Chinese hackers siphoning U.S. intellectual property.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 16 that federal prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation of Huawei for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. business partners, including technology used by T-Mobile to test smartphones.

The investigation grew in part out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, the Journal reported, including one in which a Seattle jury found Huawei liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington.

In 2012, the House intelligence committee published an investigation concluding that Huawei and another Chinese telecom giant, ZTE, posed a threat to U.S. national security. The firms are essentially arms of the Chinese government, the House concluded, which aid and abet Chinese espionage and could implant spyware that could allow the Chinese government to easily intercept communications or mount cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, such as nuclear plants and power grids.

The companies deny spying for China.

American intelligence officials have long been concerned that Chinese firms insert “back doors” in telecommunications equipment that facilitates eavesdropping. If Chinese companies dominate the construction of 5G networks worldwide, officials fear Chinese spies won’t need back doors — they will have direct access to global telecommunications.

Still, U.S. officials have not put forward hard evidence linking Huawei to spying, and critics have pointed out that American spy agencies vacuum large swaths of private information — with court orders — from U.S. technology companies.

Talks aimed at resolving disputes over Chinese technology and trade policies are due to resume in Washington on Wednesday, led by the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/u-s-charges-top-chinese-cellphone-maker-huawei-money-laundering-n963646

In corruption-plagued Chicago, high-level shakedown charges loom over mayoral race, candidates

By Aamer Madhani

CHICAGO – Over the last four decades, federal prosecutors have racked up more than 1,700 corruption convictions of elected officials, government employees and contractors, a whopping toll of graft and malfeasance that’s left longtime Chicagoans accustomed to the sight of public servants taking perp walks on the evening news.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevichex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and disgraced public schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett are among the many who in recent years have done or are still doing time in the federal penitentiary for using their office to enrich themselves.

More than 30 Chicago aldermen – members of the City Council – have been convicted of political corruption since 1973. Another, Willie Cochran, heads to trial in June to answer charges of wire fraud, bribery, and extortion. Federal authorities say the retired police officer solicited a bribe from a local business owner and made off with $30,000 he collected to help people in his ward.

But the latest political scandal unveiled by federal prosecutors this month has shocked even hardened veterans of Chicago’s political scene – and cast a shadow over next month’s mayoral election.

Authorities say Democratic Alderman Ed Burke, a 50-year veteran of the City Council and chairman of its powerful finance committee, tried to shake down officials of a company that operates dozens of Burger King franchises in Illinois.

The 14-candidate mayoral race already was shaping up to the city’s most competitive in decades. In the weeks since charges of attempted extortion against Burke were unsealed Jan. 3, political corruption has become the dominant topic in the campaign.

“Chicago is still America’s most corrupt city,” said former Alderman Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Simpson co-authored a study last year that showed Chicago had tallied more convictions for political corruption than any other U.S. city between 1976 and 2016.

“There is still a patronage problem left over,” Simpson told USA TODAY. “The bold corruption isn’t as rampant as it once was. But as we saw in Alderman Burke’s criminal charge, the old-style politics of shaking down businessmen for illegal bribes or campaign contributions still continues.”

Burke, who is running for re-election to the City Council next month, said he’s “not guilty of anything.”

“I have not done anything wrong,” Burke said. “And I’m sure that once it gets to court it will be clear.”

The nation’s third-largest city abounds with thorny challengesPersistent gun violence terrorizes pockets of the city, taxpayers face $27 billion in unfunded pension obligationsfor city workers, and an ongoing exodus of residents from Chicago complicates nearly all facets of governing.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has served as Chicago’s mayor for nearly eight years, announced in September that he would not seek a third term.

Now, the city’s long-simmering problem with corruption has moved to the forefront.

The four top-funded candidates to succeed him – Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley – have all found themselves under scrutiny for longstanding ties to Burke.

Preckwinkle, who was endorsed by the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, says she has returned $116,000 in political donations she collected at a fundraiser at Burke’s home last year.

She’s also faced questions about why her administration hired Burke’s son, Edward Burke Jr., in 2014 to serve as the training and exercise manager for the Cook County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. The younger Burke left the job last year.

Mendoza was married at Burke’s home in a ceremony officiated by the alderman’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

When Mendoza announced she was running for city clerk in 2010, she called Ed Burke her “true champion,” and told supporters the alderman was “primarily the reason why I stand before you today.”

Burke endorsed Chico, who worked as an aide to the alderman 30 years ago and in recent years partnered in a law firm that has earned millions lobbying at City Hall on behalf of Cisco Systems, Exelon Generation and Clear Channel and other companies.

Burke said “there’s probably nobody more qualified” in the mayoral race than Chico.

Daley, commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and chief of staff to Barack Obama, is the son and brother of Chicago’s two most famous mayors – Richard J. and Richard M. Daley.

Burke has given the Daley family at least $30,000 in political contributions over the years, according to the Chicago Tribune. But the Daleys and Burke have also been rivals: Richard M. Daley beat Burke in the 1980 race for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

Former Obama strategist David Axelrod, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, said the Burke case “already has had an impact in that there is more focus on ethics than there has been in previous elections.”

“Elections are often turned by things you never anticipate,” he told USA TODAY. “This certainly fits that.”

The four candidates with ties to Burke are working mightily now to distance themselves. Some are trying to use the moment to tout ethics reform plans they say will purge city from the pay-to-play and kickback schemes that have bedeviled the political scene.

Preckwinkle has called on Burke to resign from City Council. She has proposed prohibiting council members from holding outside employment.

Bill Daley has also called for banning outside employment, shrinking the size of the council from 50 to 15 and imposing term limits.

Chico has also backed term limits and called for a ban on most outside income for aldermen.

He also wants to do away with aldermanic prerogative – the Chicago practice, dating back to the 1930s, that gives council members wide latitude over permits, zoning changes and parking and liquor licenses within their wards.

“The time has come to end this old-school practice,” Chico said. “No one deserves this much power.”

Daley says any politician who has been active in Chicago over the last half-century has inevitably had contact with Burke. Still, he said, his three rivals’ ties to Burke should be more concerning to voters than his own.

He said he’s had an “arms-length political relationship with Burke.

“You have to get along for political reasons,” Daley told USA TODAY. “The others have business, and really strong personal or political (ties) with Burke.

I have yet to have someone do a fundraiser of $110,000. … That is a big fundraiser. Getting married in someone’s home is more than just showing up at a political event. Having your law business be very focused on City Hall – where Ed Burke is a force – is a different thing than engaging him around politics every four years when there is a campaign.”

Preckwinkle has also tried to play down her connections to Burke while spotlighting her rival’s connection to the powerful alderman.

“I won’t have my name dragged through the mud over the alleged criminal conduct of Susana Mendoza’s mentor, Gery Chico’s best friend and Bill Daley’s long-time political ally,” she said in a statement.

Mendoza has attempted to turn the spotlight on her rivals without addressing her own connections to Burke.

In a statement to USA TODAY, she said there is a “stark contrast to Bill Daley, who won’t release his tax returns and has chosen instead to hide his conflicts of interest, Toni Preckwinkle, who has a history of lying until she gets caught, and Gery Chico, who spent years lobbying Ed Burke at City Hall and is Ed Burke’s endorsed candidate in this race.”

Some candidates untouched by the Burke scandal question whether any candidate who has long been part of Chicago’s political establishment has the will or ability to bring meaningful change.

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, ex-chairwoman of a city police accountability task force, began pushing ethics reform as key to solving other issues soon after she announced her candidacy last year.

She says voters should question the credibility of candidates who waited until the Burke charges landed to talk about corruption.

“If we’re going to truly have a new day in city government where we put people first, then we have to start attacking the elephant in the room,” Lightfoot said. “In some ways, we’re rotting from the inside out. We’re losing population, we’re losing our tax base, and the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. I think there is a moral imperative to do something about it.”

Amara Enyia, a community organizer and municipal consultant running for mayor, said the Burke scandal seems to be spurring voters to consider how corruption connects to the other ails of a cash-strapped city that has seen the closure of dozens of schools in African-American neighborhoods, the shuttering of mental health clinics and disproportionate levels of poverty in black and Latino neighborhoods.

“Voters don’t want business as usual,” Enyia said. “They want someone who does not carry the baggage of corruption.

Burke, who was forced to give up his role as chairman of the finance committee after he was charged, has faced a federal investigation before.

In February 2012, a federal grand jury subpoenaed finance committee records related to the city’s workers compensation program.

Burke denied wrongdoing and vowed to cooperate with authorities. No charges were brought.

In the alleged Burger King shakedown, Burke first applied a light touch on operators of Tri City Foods Inc., the second-largest franchisee of Burger King restaurants with stores in six Midwest states.

Federal prosecutors say in court papers that Burke told the company’s owner that he had been holding up permits to renovate one of its Burger King restaurants in his wardbecause constituents expressed concerns about trucks parking there overnight.

Prosecutors say the company promised to address the matter.

Prosecutors say Burke told owner Shoukat Dhanani and another Tri City official that he was a partner in a law firm that works with clients on property tax appeals.

Dhanani told the FBI that he “read between the lines” that Burke was suggesting he’d smooth the permits in exchange for their business, prosecutors say. Dhanani said he told Burke that his company already had legal representation.

Less than two weeks later, prosecutors say, another official with the restaurant group called to give Burke an update on steps they had taken to address concerns about the trucks parking at the restaurant.

This time, prosecutors say, Burke was more direct.

“Good,” Burke said, in a conversation the FBI says was wiretapped. “And, um, we were going to talk about the real estate tax representation and you were going to have somebody get in touch with me so we can expedite your permits.”

Dhanani and others working for the restaurant group said Burke pressed them to give his law firm their business, prosecutors say. The FBI surveillance also picked up talk from the alderman that suggested he wanted the company as a client, they say.

Burke slow-walked the permitting process for months, prosecutors say, causing the Burger King franchise to lose 40 to 50 percent in sales because it couldn’t open an unfinished dining room to customers.

Dhanani told the FBI he eventually relented and informed Burke his company would hire his law firm, prosecutors say, but he never followed through.

Dhanani also told the FBI that he made a $10,000 political donation to Preckwinkle at the urging of Burke, prosecutors say.

Preckwinkle said her campaign returned the contribution to the donor because it exceeded the $5,600 contribution limit for individual contributions.

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense attorney in Chicago, said an alarming number of city politicians have been caught committing graft and stealing taxpayer money.

Still, he said, it’s important to keep in perspective that Chicago is hardly alone in having to deal with political corruption.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles tallied more than 1,500 convictions for public corruption between 1976 and 2016, according to Simpson’s study. Federal prosecutors in New York counted more than 1,300 convictions during those years.

“The problems here are not because every once in a while an alderman gets caught doing something crooked,” Cotter said. “It is a bad thing, and it’s important to prosecute. But it’s not why the schools are not good. It’s not why we have a homeless issue in this city that’s insane. It’s not why we have the pension problem that is going to make life hard for every Chicagoan’s kids and their grandkids.

“There are basic structural problems in this city, and solving corruption alone is not going to bring an end to these big issues.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/01/23/chicago-federal-political-corruption-scandal-mayor-election-alderman-ed-burke/2581411002/

 

Why Aren’t Hedge Funds Required to Fight Money Laundering?

By Heather Vogell

For many years, the federal government has required banks, brokerages and even casinos to take steps to stop customers from using them to clean dirty money.

Yet one major part of the financial system has remained stubbornly exempt, despite experts’ repeated warnings that it is vulnerable to criminal manipulation. Investment companies such as hedge funds and private equity firms have escaped multiple efforts to subject them to rules meant to combat money laundering.

The latest attempt, which began in 2015, appears to have ground to a halt, according to sources familiar with the process.

“You’ve got several trillion dollars, the management of which nobody is required to ask any questions about where that money is coming from,” said Clark Gascoigne, deputy director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition. “This is very problematic.”

The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organization that seeks to combat money laundering around the world, characterized the lack of anti-money laundering rules for investment advisers, such as those who manage hedge funds and private equity funds, as one of the United States’ most significant lapses in a report two years ago.

The push to regulate hedge funds and similar investment firms took off after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Congress passed the Patriot Act. Among other things, the law required federal agencies to take new steps to keep illicit money out of the U.S. financial system. The Treasury Department exempted investment firms at the time, planning to return to them after tackling other sectors. “Eighteen years ago, the Patriot Act required investment companies to install their own AML [anti-money laundering] programs,” said Elise Bean, a former staff director of the U.S. Senate investigations subcommittee who supports the proposed rule. “But Treasury has yet to enforce the law,” she said.

The Treasury Department, through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, initially proposed rules in 2002 and 2003 requiring firms like hedge funds and their investment advisers to adopt anti-money laundering measures. That attempt languished as FinCEN waited for the Securities and Exchange Commission to retool its approach, said Alma Angotti, who wrote the original proposal while at FinCEN and is now co-head of global investigations for the consulting firm Navigant. So much time passed that FinCEN withdrew the proposed rules in 2008. FinCEN then launched its second attempt to impose such regulations seven years later.

That second attempt is the one that has now crawled to a virtual stop. “It’s the kind of thing that should have taken two to three years, not 17,” said Joshua Kirschenbaum, senior fellow focusing on illicit finance at the nonpartisan think tank the German Marshall Fund and a former supervisor in FinCEN’s enforcement division.

Hedge funds and private equity funds can be attractive to big-dollar launderers who prize the funds’ anonymity, the variety of investments they offer and, in some cases, their use of off-shore tax and secrecy havens, experts say. After 2001, the number of annual hedge fund launches surged more than threefold, according to one report, and investments by high net worth individuals exceeded those of institutional investors.

“They’re a black box to everyone involved,” Kirschenbaum said. “They’re sophisticated and can justify moving hundreds of billions.”

Money launderers seek to hide illicit proceeds by making it appear they come from legal sources. Laundering hides crimes as diverse as drug dealing, tax evasion and political corruption. Experts say the massive, untracked streams of cash it creates can fuel more illegal activity, including terrorism.

That’s one reason banks are required to implement protocols aimed at identifying and reporting dodgy transactions to authorities, and verifying that customers are who they say they are.

FinCEN’s latest proposed rule targets investment advisers who manage funds for clients such as hedge funds. The rule would apply primarily to the largest advisers with $100 million or more in assets under management, who are required to register with the SEC.

“As long as investment advisers are not subject to AML program and suspicious activity reporting requirements, money launderers may see them as a low-risk way to enter the U.S. financial system,” the proposed rule states, noting that in 2014, 11,235 advisers registered with the SEC reported roughly $61.9 trillion in assets for their clients.

Foreign political corruption is one of the money laundering risks for investment advisers, Angotti said. Instead of needing quick access to their money, the ultra-wealthy involved in such graft often want to park their illicit profits somewhere safe, making them more tolerant of fund rules that can delay withdrawals for a year or more.

Having federal anti-money laundering protocols is no panacea. Regulators periodically conclude that certain banks and brokerages are not abiding by various aspects of the rules. Last year, for example, regulators announced more than $2 billion in penalties against Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Charles Schwab & Co., UBS Financial Services, CapitalOne Bank and others, according to a company that tracks such enforcement. (The companies neither admitted nor denied the allegations against them.)

Experts say it’s impossible to quantify how much money may be laundered through hedge funds. And prosecutors retain the right to charge such a fund if it is proven to have participated in money laundering; but without the FinCEN rules, regulators cannot fine the fund’s managers for, say, not taking steps to prevent abuse.

There are multiple reasons the attempts to adopt rules have bogged down. The principal ones include the financial industry’s cascade of requests for modifications to the rule and inertia among federal bureaucracies, according to people familiar with the process.

The industry has tended to proclaim that it favors the principle of anti-money laundering rules — while simultaneously contesting many of the specifics. Several industry groups contend that the proposed rule overstates the risk that private equity funds will be used for illicit finance.

“We’re very supportive of having an aggressive AML regime,” said Jason Mulvihill, general counsel of the American Investment Council, which represents private equity funds. But, he added, “if you were trying to launder money, the last place you’d want to put it is in a private equity fund” because of the industry’s standard practice of requiring investors to leave their investments in place for 10 years. And, he added, most private equity firms already have some anti-money laundering policies in place, just in case.

Mulvihill’s organization has proposed that FinCEN exclude advisers who require investors to hold their investment for more than two years — a carve-out included in the original FinCEN proposal — which effectively would allow most private equity funds to remain exempt from the anti-money laundering rule.

The Investment Adviser Association also supports the goal of the regulations, said Karen Barr, the group’s president and CEO. But it worries that some advisers will need to implement costly changes that aren’t warranted. Those include advisers who also have clients for whom they provide recommendations, not money management. “We think investment advisers are a low risk because they don’t hold assets,” she added. More than half have 10 employees or fewer, she said, and “the sort of cumulative effect of all these regulations on small shops is really burdensome.”

In response to a request for an interview, a spokesman for the Managed Funds Association, which represents hedge funds, referred to a letter the group sent FinCEN in 2015, in which it stated that it “strongly supports adoption of the Proposed Rule.” The letter also included 25 pages of “background,” suggestions and requests for clarification.

Industry concerns were not the only reason for the rule’s stasis, said former FinCEN employees who spoke with ProPublica. They said staffing, competing agency priorities and other factors also contributed. The Trump administration’s general slowdown in rule-making added to delays, they said.

The rule’s implementation would also require coordination with the SEC, whose job it would be to make sure investment advisers are complying. Policing advisers has not been a major priority for the agency, which five years ago examined only 8 percent of registered advisers. The agency increased the number to 15 percent in 2017.

FinCEN and Treasury spokespeople did not return calls or provide answers to questions about the proposed rule that ProPublica sent by email. Many Treasury employees are not working because of the government shutdown. A spokesman for the SEC said the agency could not answer questions about the rule until the shutdown ended.

Seeing the rule flounder is vexing for Angotti. Some firms may be effectively executing their own anti-money laundering measures, she said. But without more scrutiny, she said, “who knows?” Such steps are expensive “and it requires them to turn away business,” Angotti said. “Without strong enforcement, it’s hard to get businesses to do this stuff.”

https://www.propublica.org/article/why-arent-hedge-funds-required-to-fight-money-laundering

Attorneys for Russian national charged in money laundering, murder-for-hire plot want him released due to health concerns

By Natalie Matthews

Attorneys for a wealthy Raleigh man at the center of an international money laundering and murder-for-hire case want him freed for health reasons and say he is not a threat, according to newly released documents.

Leonid Teyf, a Russian national with connections to the Putin administration, is due in court on Tuesday for a detention appeal hearing.

Teyf and associates allegedly scammed more than $150 million in kickbacks on Russian government contracts, according to the charges against him.

In newly filed documents opposing Teyf’s motion for release, the attorneys for the federal government say Teyf not only tried to murder his wife’s suspected lover (his housekeeper’s son), but also discussed killing her.

Teyf allegedly bribed an undercover Department of Homeland Security official to try to have the young man deported, authorities said. When that took too long, he paid another federal agent to kill the man, even supplying him with an illegal gun, authorities said.

Federal officials raided Teyfs’ north Raleigh mansion in December. They also raided a condo Leonid Teyf owned in the Glenwood South area, where they found a safe, several assault weapons and a lot of ammunition.

The government believes that Teyf is a flight risk and said he has multiple apartments, a compound in Russia and a home in Switzerland.

Since December 2010, the Teyfs opened at least 70 financial accounts at four different banks, and wire transfers show money coming into the couple’s bank accounts from countries known to launder money, including Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Seychelles. Investigators said the Teyfs bought hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury cars and more than $2.5 million worth of art.

Teyf, his wife Tatyana, and four others are charged in the case involving murder for hire, bribery, money laundering and violation of immigration laws.

Federal attorneys promise to release more information at Tuesday’s court hearing.

Leonid Teyf remains in jail without bond.  Tatyana Teyf was released from jail without bond last month.

The Red Pill Realities of Anti Money Laundering

By Shirish Netke

Money laundered through the banking system is estimated to be over 2 trillion dollars a year. A recent study by BAFT (Bankers Association of Finance and Trade) estimates that 1% of the proceeds from financial crimes are intercepted. Meanwhile, nine out of ten suspicious activities flagged by AML software in banks are false alarms.

Let’s put these numbers in perspective. 99% of laundered money is not caught. 90% of the resources spent catching suspicious actors are wasted. 100 % of US banks have known this for years.

The bottom line is that 70 billion dollars are spent every year in compliance costs by banks to intercept less than 25 billion in illicit funds.

How did we get here? Modern technology, specifically data analytics, is well-suited to address this problem. Why hasn’t this problem been solved?

Let’s look at what happened over the last few decades.

Most banks use process automation software for Anti-Money Laundering. This software was designed many years ago based on abstracting human tasks and automating them to be more efficient. This seemed like a very good idea at that time when AML/BSA/CFT compliance was a matter of running through a checklist.

This was a very efficient solution until the stakes for non-compliance became very high. The business process was no longer effective and there was no provision in the software to change it. Meanwhile, financial crimes posed a clear and present danger to banks. Banks did the only thing they could do to solve the problem – they created manual workarounds to process automation and hired more people to implement them.

Bank compliance teams are well-aware of the limitations of the process and use their judgment to execute their functions while staying within guidelines. However, exercising sound judgment does not necessarily free them from the tyranny of a process designed for a different time.

It is not unusual to see a bank increased its staff ten-fold in five years. Many people in banks have been deployed to manually (and intelligently) intervene where the software fell short. As banks continue to be fined for AML related activities, staffing continues at a frantic pace. Today, banks are actively looking at hiring more compliance people. Some are also moving compliance teams to low-wage geographies to reduce the burgeoning cost for compliance. Others are looking for outsourcing firms to manage this business process.

What is a banker to do?

Here are a few things to consider.

#1 There is No “App for That”

A risk-based business process is not something you buy. It’s something you do.

The FFIEC manual on AML/BSA says “The first step of the risk assessment process is to identify the specific products, services, customers, entities, and geographic locations unique to the bank.”

Sadly, this requirement is in direct conflict with the specifications of packaged enterprise software. This software was created as a solution that works for all banks. It caters to the “least common denominator” requirement of a large number of banks. It is very unlikely that a business process built into an enterprise solution will be optimized to a bank’s unique risk profile.

Today, when you buy a traditional AML software application you tacitly commit to a business process that goes with it. If the business process does not suit the risk profile of your bank, you need to deal with it. You can follow the process anyway even though it is neither efficient nor effective and rationalize it as an industry standard solution. You can also manually override the process and customize it to your needs. The first is not sustainable and the second requires manpower and resources, the extent of which depends on the amount of customization.

A third choice is to re-design the business process. This requires re-examining the objectives of the process and the underlying technology. It also means convincing your bank examiners that an updated process is more effective, efficient and minimizes risk.

A risk-based process can be broken down in terms of the 4 M’s – Measure, Monitor, Manage and Mitigate. There is some skill involved in deploying the right combination of human intelligence and machine intelligence in deploying such a process. As a bank, you have a unique understanding of your risks. These risks will determine your business process and the allocation of resources to that process.

An important question to ask a technology vendor in implementing a risk-based process – will the technology drive process, or will the process drive technology? If the process drives technology, will it let the bank change its business process when the risks change?

The question to ask yourself – how are the vendors’ incentives aligned with those of the banks’? Do they get paid for the success of a risk-based process, or for selling a software license and billable hours irrespective of the outcome?

#2 Understand the Modeling Math

Mathematical models can make your AML process more effective and slash your costs if (and only if) they are implemented judiciously.

George Box, a British statistician, is credited with the quote “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. A model cannot guarantee or predict an outcome, but it can provide a metric for its accuracy. Understanding model accuracy is a key input to designing a risk-based process.

Let’s take an example.

Current models used by AML software are wrong 90% of the time. Which means when they call out 100 suspicious actors, only 10 of them are suspicious enough to require a SAR (suspicious activity report) to be filed with FinCEN. A better model may produce 80% false positives for those 10 SARs. The second model is an obvious improvement. What is not so obvious is that the second model will produce a 100% increase in productivity because it produces only 50 alerts for the same 10 SARs – and only needs 50% of the resources.

Both models have a finite possibility of being wrong and letting some bad actors slip through the cracks. However, the second one is more useful. A model’s usefulness can be measured in mathematical terms which can be the basis for allocating resources to the business process.

The important question to ask a vendor who provides a model is – how can a model’s performance metrics be used to modify the business process?

The question to ask yourself is – do I clearly understand the trade-offs of using a risk-based approach powered by a mathematical model? Can I explain this approach to a regulator during a bank examination?

#3 Regulatory guidance is global. Bank exams are local.

The long-term impact of policy changes is often underestimated. The short-term impact of these changes is often overestimated.

Bank regulators are encouraging banks to adopt new technology to make it easier to manage AML processes. A recent report from the US Dept. of Treasury says “Regulators should not impose unnecessary burdens or obstacles to the use of AI and machine learning and should provide greater regulatory clarity that would enable further testing and responsible deployment of these technologies by regulated financial services companies as the technologies develop.”

This is a welcome change from the past. Implementing this change will need alignment with the rank and file of all regulatory organizations. Regulators understand that this entails a process of education and training of bank examiners to familiarize them with the technology.

Much as we would like changes to be immediate, banks and regulators have a history of being deliberative in adopting new ways of doing things. There is a natural gestation period between policy changes and gaining familiarity with new approaches by bank examiners and compliance officers.

Recent guidance from regulators indicates that the stage is set for pilots to deploy in a manner where bankers will get some relief from regulatory scrutiny. This will make it easier for banks to try new technologies.

The important question to ask a vendor who provides a new technology is – can they help you through the transition to the new way of doing things?

The question to ask yourself is – can my bank define a path from the current situation to a future where new technology can be used to work with regulators?

In the science fiction film, The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is given a choice between the blue pill of comfort coupled with ignorance and the red pill of reality that has an uncertain future. The rebel leader’s closing words to Neo are – “Remember, all I am offering is the truth. Nothing more.”

Here are our truth offerings on AML for bankers:

Design your AML process around desired outcomes; not legacy technology.

Understand trade-offs between human intelligence and machine intelligence.

Be practical about the ground realities of affecting change.

Criminals using ‘Fortnite’ to launder money ‘with relative impunity’: report

The virtual currency used by millions of gamers who play “Fortnite” has become popular with money-laundering cybercriminals, according to reports.

Money launderers use stolen credit cards to purchase V-bucks – which players use to purchase weapons, outfits and other items in the wildly popular game – from the “Fortnite” store and then resell them on the dark web.

Agents with the cybersecurity firm Sixgill posed as customers and uncovered operations being conducted globally in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Arabic and English.

“Criminals are executing carding fraud and getting money in and out of the Fortnite system with relative impunity,” said Benjamin Preminger, a senior intelligence analyst at Sixgill.

“Threat actors [a malicious person or entity] are scoffing at Epic Games’ weak security measures, saying that the company doesn’t seem to care about players defrauding the system and purchasing discounted V-bucks… This directly touches on the ability of threat actors to launder money through the game.” he continued.

The Independent noted one example of a seller who accepted Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash as payment who claimed to be selling at a discount and wanted “to give back to the deep web at a massive discounted rate.”

Epic Games, the North Carolina-based developer of “Fortnite,” told the Hollywood Reporterit takes the money-laundering claims seriously.

“Epic Games takes these issues seriously, as chargebacks and fraud put our players and our business at risk,” a company spokesperson said. “As always, we encourage players to protect their accounts by turning on two-factor authentication, not re-using passwords and using strong passwords, and not sharing account information with others.”

Some security experts have said the company isn’t doing enough to monitor how its products are being used.

“Epic Games doesn’t seem to clamp down in any serious way on criminal activity surrounding Fortnite, money laundering or otherwise,” Preminger said, adding that “several steps could be taken to mitigate the phenomenon, including monitoring the transfer of high-value goods in the game, identifying players with large stockpiles of V-bucks, and sharing data with relevant law enforcement agencies.”

Epic Games did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment early Friday regarding the accusations of illegal activity on its platforms.

The immensely popular game is free to download and play and has around 200 million players worldwide. It has generated upwards of $3 billion in revenue, the Reporter said.

Between September and October, IT security firm Zerofox found 53,000 instances of online scams related to the video game.

DEA agent linked to Colombian money laundering scheme, prosecutors say

By Scott Glover

(CNN)An agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration is under investigation in connection with a scheme to launder millions of dollars for Colombian drug traffickers, CNN has learned.

The years-long conspiracy sometimes “involved the use of undercover accounts controlled by the DEA,” according to court papers filed in US District Court in Tampa, Florida.
The agent is not identified by name but is characterized as a “co-conspirator” in the case against a long-time DEA informant who has pleaded guilty to money laundering for the Colombians.
The agent, according to court papers, received cash payments from an account containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money. The agent also directed additional money to be deposited into the accounts of his family members, the documents state.
A DEA spokeswoman in Washington declined comment.
Though the case was filed in Tampa, the prosecution is being overseen by the US Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, Georgia. The transfer of the matter to another jurisdiction is the sort of step federal authorities sometimes take in investigations involving allegations of official corruption.
Kurt Erskine, a top official in the US attorney’s office in Atlanta, declined comment on the case.
The information about the allegedly rogue agent is contained in a plea agreement between federal prosecutors and former DEA informant Gustavo Yabrudi, a Venezuelan-born Miami resident.
Yabrudi’s defense attorney, Leonardo E. Concepcion, said in an email that the case is “still active” and, “I cannot discuss it as this time.”
Yabrudi worked on and off as an informant for the DEA from 2010 to 2016 with stints in New York, Boston and Miami, according to court records. He was deactivated at one point in 2013 for “unauthorized money movements.”
According to court records, the agent identified as a co-conspirator instructed Yabrudi in 2015 to recruit someone to open a bank account under a false name in Miami. Hundreds of thousands of dollars “from illegal drug sales” was deposited into the account, the records state.
Neither the agent nor Yabrudi informed the DEA of the existence of the account, according to the court records.
The pair subsequently spread the money around among fellow conspirators who laundered the proceeds in various ways and got the money into the hands of traffickers in Colombia, the documents allege.
At least $7 million in “illegal funds” passed through a business account belonging to one co-conspirator, according to Yabrudi’s plea agreement.Yabrubi was charged with money laundering in September. He agreed to plead guilty later that same month.
In December, federal prosecutors and Yabrudi’s defense attorney filed a joint motion requesting that his sentencing be postponed for six months. He is currently set to be sentenced in May.
“The defendant is cooperating against others who facilitated sophisticated money laundering schemes, in part, by using undercover accounts that were shell companies and controlled by law enforcement,” the motion states. “Some of the illegal proceeds laundered during these schemes derived from drug trafficking and public corruption related offenses.” The agent’s current status with DEA is unclear.