Friday, October 1, 2010

Close-Up Of Illicit Cross-Border Cash Flow and Its Consequences

Some find huge profits worth the fight, fuss and fear in a war of nerves, murder

McAllen, Texas – She rode the bus to Charlotte with a friend. Each picked up a bag from a man they met there. They knew something illicit was inside, else why would the mysterious woman who recruited them have fronted $1,000 each with a promise to pay $7,000 more when they got on the other side of the border.

Bianca Tapia-Pineda is only 20, but she found it worth her while to take the risk.

Drug cartel gangsters hired she and 13 other persons – half from the U.S., the other half from Mexico - to travel to Atlanta and other major cities in the southeastern U.S. Federal agents arrested them last weekend at the Reynosa-Hidalgo International Bridge when x-ray machines picked up odd shapes in the bags they had been hired to mule across the border.

Altogether, they had $3.1 million in undeclared currency inside duffel bags wrapped in deflated air mattresses, each one holding as much as a quarter-million in small bills.

The flow of illicit goods and money runs both ways across the border, shepherded by the Gulf cartel and enforced by the Zetas, ex-Mexican army special forces soldiers who defected for the higher pay and high-stakes lifestyle that nets them cash pay thousands of percent higher than their military pay.

The chain reaches much higher. Legitimate businessmen, some of them public officials, launder cash through diversified financial services companies used by Mexican immigrants to manage their money.

Last week an Arizona grand jury indicted Nogales, Arizona, Mayor Garcia Von Borstel and his father, Garcia Suarez, following a months-long investigation by a state and federal anti-corruption task force headed by the FBI.

Mr. Von Borstel operates a check cashing service named ACE Cash Express, a business which serves as an agent for Western Union and sells money orders.

Aside from selling influence to local businesses to obtain lucrative municipal contracts, the Mayor and his father had set up a slush fund of $3.2 million in a phony bank account they claimed was an operating fund for the check cashing service.

Zetas torture, murder those they target and leave the bodies on display as an example to anyone else who might develop sticky fingers.

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