SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Feds: Crime of cash smuggling is booming
Scripps Howard News Service


February 08, 2006

In a minivan bound for Mexico late last year, U.S. border agents in Texas discovered that three passengers had hidden nearly $56,000 in cash under their clothes and in a bag.

In a similar seizure around the same time, a man also heading south of the border from Texas was arrested after agents found hidden bundles of cash totaling $94,000 stashed in his vehicle's engine area.

Not long after, a Virginia man was busted with $111,000 in bundled cash in a taxi he had hired to take him from Texas across an international bridge to Mexico.

Where seized currency has
most commonly come from

Top 10 origins and number of recorded seizures of cash, 2003.

Texas 128

California 115

New York 78

Illinois 77

Georgia 59

Florida 45

Ohio 45

Tennessee 39

Michigan 37

Arizona 36

(Source: Federal El Paso
Intelligence Center.)

As these recent cases illustrate, the crime of cash smuggling is booming, the U.S. government says.

Apparently fueling the illegal boom is the success law enforcement has had in tamping down traditional forms of money laundering, which has forced drug dealers and others to turn to the old-fashioned ways of taking ill-gotten money out of the country.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States spearheaded a global crackdown on money laundering to make it harder for al Qaeda and affiliated groups to finance their terrorist activities. Congress also made bulk cash smuggling a specific criminal offense.

"Bulk cash smuggling may be on the rise due in part to increasingly effective (anti-money-laundering) policies and procedures at U.S. financial institutions," said a comprehensive government report, "U.S. Money Laundering Threat Assessment," released last month.

Jonathan Winer, a former assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and an expert on money laundering, agreed.

"Post-9/11, the electronic transfer has become increasingly constrained, which has caused the bad guys to get out of that system," Winer said.

The report describes a veritable flood of cash moving both out of and into the United States illegally. From 2002 to 2003, more than $500 million was seized, according to the report, which studied programs and statistics from a host of government agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Postal Service, the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

So commonplace is the transporting of cash out of the United States _ and so brazen the offenders _ that many smugglers make only minor efforts to hide the money, the report said. In fact, about half of the $500 million seized in that period was unconcealed when it was spotted by border agents.

When hidden, the money most commonly was stashed in bags, hiding places in cars, and under clothes. Four seizures were made of money concealed in "body cavities," the report said. According to data from the federal El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas, seized currency has most commonly come from California, Illinois, New York and Texas.

Federal agents say most of the money smuggling is associated with the illicit drug trade, while some stems from tax evasion, illegal gambling, alien smuggling and fraud.

As with illegal immigration, federal agents say they lack the resources and manpower to seal the country's borders and other entryways from clandestine cash transports.

"Bulk cash smugglers have an unlimited number of options available to move cash by land, sea and air out of the United States, but law enforcement resources are limited," the study said.


Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska