Federal investigators have charged 11 people with laundering more than $40 million worth of drug money to Mexico through metro-Atlanta area money transfer services.
The Northern District of Georgia’s US District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that the charges came following a three-year investigation focused on money remittance businesses. The nine people in custody are from Gwinnett County, DeKalb County and Atlanta. Two Mexican nationals have been indicted but not yet caught.
The feds began investigating individuals in the metro-Atlanta area in 2014 for suspicion of sending drug money to Mexico, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Federal agent sources infiltrated networks used in small businesses that were funneling money out of the country via money remittance services, the release said. These small businesses allow customers to wire funds to individuals in other countries without using traditional bank accounts.
In exchange for a kickback, managers and employees of nine different businesses allegedly agreed to launder purported drug funds to Mexico by breaking the transactions into smaller amounts and by listing fake sender names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The investigation revealed that the nine money remitters allegedly transmitted more than $40 million over a roughly four-year timeframe.
The release indicates that the suspects tried to conceal the source of the funds by circumventing the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions – including money remitters – to monitor their clients for suspicious conduct and to obtain valid identification for high dollar remittances. Multiple suspects were listed as Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance officers.
“Using money remitters to launder illegal drug proceeds is just one more way drug cartels fuel their criminal enterprises,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said in the press release. “The business model of many Mexican cartels requires a means to get their cash profits across the border and into the hands of the supervisors and sellers. This investigation shows that they may have found an effective means through unscrupulous money remitters. We hope these cases will help to close this pipeline.”
Nick Annan, a special agent for ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta, said in the release that the criminal network uncovered by this investigation laundered money “provided direct support to the drug trafficking organizations plaguing the region with dangerous illicit narcotics and the violence associated with drug trafficking activities.”