It was recently reported that Congress is launching an investigation into the Drug Enforcement Administration, following claims that the agency helped drug cartels launder money – an operation some in Congress say bears striking resemblance to the failed “Fast and Furious” anti-gunrunning probe. While most of America is appalled at the “Fast and Furious” operation, myself included, money laundering investigations are a completely different, proven and accepted investigative technique when conducted properly.
Long-term covert money laundering investigations have been around since the early 1980s when the U.S. Customs Service Office of Investigations conducted one of the first successful investigations known as “Operation C-Chase.” It was one of the most successful undercover operations in the history of U.S. law enforcement, and the evidence gathered during the investigation proved critical to the conviction of General Manuel Noriega. In addition, the operation helped bring down unscrupulous bankers who manipulated complex international finance systems to serve drug lords – including Pablo Escobar – as well as corrupt politicians, tax cheats and terrorists. According to Robert Mueller III, director of the FBI, the operation was “one of the largest money laundering prosecutions in U.S. history.”
Money laundering investigations are complex and long-term in nature, with the goal of identifying and gathering evidence against the Command and Control Centers of international criminal organizations, including the silent partners well behind the scenes. In the course of these investigations, undercover agents put their lives on the line to infiltrate the organizations to the highest levels possible, all the while relying on their agency and other departments to do the right thing by building walls to shield the operation from discovery by the criminal cartels.
These walls allow others to build independent cases and seizures domestically and internationally of otherwise unknown cells within the organization. These “walled off” investigations allow the authorities to seize contraband, currency, property, and weapons along with making arrests of the local members of the criminal organization while the primary money laundering investigation moves forward.
Part of this investigative process is to allow some money “to walk” so that other criminal elements, at the command and control levels, can be identified and later brought to justice. Granted this “walked” money goes into purchasing various items, both legal and illegal, but that is a part of the investigative process. Without this ability, there can be no investigation that will ever reach the Command and Control levels as demonstrated by Operation C-Chase; the only people that would ever be brought to justice would be low-level mules.