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The disclosure, contained in a little-noticed affidavit by an undercover narcotics agent in Boston, comes as federal authorities are continuing their investigations of major banks suspected of moving money through the United States for drug cartels and countries under trade sanctions.
These include Citigroup Inc. After asking a judge to allow U. The repeated wire transfers occurred during a four-year D. In addition, a dozen suspects were extradited from Colombia and 15 pleaded guilty on a variety of money laundering and drug trafficking charges.
Alleged drug trafficker Ericson Sebastian Vargas Cardona, described as the boss of the Office of Envigado drug cartel, at a police station inside the airport in Bogota, Colombia in He is currently awaiting trial in New York. Cepero, a Massachusetts police investigator detailed to a D.
In one instance, cash delivered in Rome bore visible traces of cocaine, Cepero said. Cepero testified in court last year that the banks receiving the drug money had been investigated by an Internal Revenue Service agent working with the D.
And in some instances, at least, banks reported the suspicious activity to the Treasury Department as required by law, according to Cepero. Whether that exonerated the banks receiving the money was not clear. And it was not clear that there was any connection between the Banamex and Colombian investigations, though court papers suggested there could be.
However, money laundering experts told Reporters that transactions like those described by Cepero — which involved the use of Colombian currency brokerages — were fraught with legal peril and have in the past resulted in enforcement actions.
Dowling, a former undercover agent for the Treasury Department and former White House advisor on narcotics and money laundering. Simple Path for Payments While the cocaine itself was in many cases smuggled into Mexico for shipment into the U.
Investigators say they deposited the cash in two accounts undercover agents opened in Massachusetts and New York — at Bank of America and at Eastern Bank, a regional lender — where only select employees were informed of the investigation.
Cepero then wired the drug money to accounts designated by Guerrero at Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Citi, many of which were held in the names of so-called casas de bolsa, or currency brokerages, in Colombia and Venezuela.
Guerrero is serving a year sentence in prison after he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering.
The brokerages are not banks but have the ability to receive U. The system allegedly helps the cartel obscure the source of the funds and bank the proceeds of the sale of cocaine. The Treasury Department in June blacklisted La Oficina for its role in drug trafficking, long after having imposed sanctions on individuals associated with the cartel.
Red Flags Many major banks have ceased serving currency exchange houses, according to Donald Semesky, a former chief of financial operations for the D. And when tainted money has been discovered in accounts, enforcement action against the bank has not always followed.
According to Cepero, the La Oficina cartel moved money through the brokerages, which in turn were clients of the banks, meaning the banks did not have direct business with the cartel. Semesky added that it may be very difficult for a given bank to identify the ultimate destination of a payment in foreign settings.
Still, repeated, round-numbered and inexplicably large and unusual deposits to accounts held by money changers from high-risk areas should prompt concern, specialists say. Sharpe, a former senior banking enforcement and compliance official at the Treasury Department, said that under such circumstances a bank is obligated to file a Suspicious Activity Report, or S.
But he said that law enforcement authorities can ask that a bank take no action in order not to disturb an ongoing investigation. At least one defense attorney, Keith S. The transactions that were going on made no economic sense.
Though the banks were not charged, Halpern said the banks were arguably also responsible.
Covelli was sentenced in November to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a single count of money laundering conspiracy. Both accounts were among 54 ordered seized at the D. But the senders, which were undercover D. According to Cepero, neither Profesionales nor Corredores ever asked Feran to identify the sender of the money or questioned Covelli about the source of the funds being wired into New York bank accounts.
In court filings this year, lawyers for both Corredores and Profesionales have issued blanket denials that the funds in their accounts are in any way connected to drug smuggling. Patricoff, a Miami lawyer representing both Corredores and Profesionales.
It was unclear why prosecutors no longer wanted to go to trial.
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