Computer salesmen charged in money laundering sting
September 28, 1999
MIAMI (CNN) -- U.S. computer salesmen were among 60 people charged after undercover federal agents cracked a money laundering ring with links to the Colombian drug trade, officials told CNN on Tuesday.
The 35 salesmen are among those arrested in a two-and-half- year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service, sources said.
Sources close to the investigation say $10 million was seized during the sting, which began in February 1997.
The black market "peso exchange" involving Colombian money brokers and U.S. businesses was believed responsible for laundering about 30 percent of the Colombian drug cartel's cash, or some $6 billion a year, Justice and Treasury officials said in Washington.
Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eisenstat said the sting was meant to demonstrate "law enforcement will not tolerate businesses giving drug traffickers and money launderers a free hand to sanitize their illicit profits."
Federal, state and local authorities in south Florida said the inter-agency investigation had resulted in 24 indictments charging the 60 defendants with money laundering conspiracies and tax violations.
Some of the computer salesmen arrested are vendors participating in this week's COMDEX convention in Miami Beach, Florida, the largest U.S. computer trade show.
Rick Speier, the IRS' acting deputy assistant commissioner for criminal investigation, said the investigation focused on the laundering of Colombian drug money that has historically changed hands on the Colombian black market through U.S.- based peso brokers.
Speier called it "the largest known money laundering system in the Western Hemisphere," with roots that go back to the 1950s, when Colombian importers bought U.S. dollars on the black market to avoid Colombian taxes and duties.
IRS agents pose as couriers
As part of the undercover operation, IRS agents posed as couriers for peso brokers seeking to launder cash. The agents set up a Miami storefront where, investigators claim, deals with brokers were struck while hidden cameras rolled.
Sources say the agents offered to buy computers for large amounts of cash, then ship the computers to Colombia, where they could be sold in stores or on the black market.
The agents then approached computer stores and allegedly made it clear to computer sales representatives that the purchases were being made with drug money in amounts of more than $10,000.
Purchases not declared
Any international purchase of more than $10,000 must be declared to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Investigators say the defendants either failed to file the required forms or would break up the sale into amounts totaling less than $10,000 each. According to sources, the defendants work for several computer vendors including the following national dealers: Daisy Tek, Nexel and Simmex.
Of the $10 million seized in the sting, sources say, $2 million was used to buy computers by undercover agents. Of the 60 people charged, 35 are computer sales representatives, 16 are Colombian nationals, and nine are identified as American representatives of peso brokers or cash couriers for drug dealers.
Arrests began Monday, and the suspects were scheduled to make their first court appearances in U.S. Magistrate's Court in Miami on Tuesday.
Agents targeted both the disguised deposits of drug proceeds into Colombian bank accounts and the cash purchase of U.S. goods that were shipped to Colombia.
Attorney General Janet Reno called the operation "a significant step forward in combating these criminals and ensuring the integrity of our financial institutions."
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