Bloomberg: Wells Fargo, large banks aided drug gangs

Here’s a rather interesting piece of reporting from Bloomberg: “Banks Financing Mexico Drug Gangs Admitted in Wells Fargo Deal”.

Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.

They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.

The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its August 2010 issue.

This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine…”

This is a must read piece, and one that will surely lead you to consider the realities of criminal enterprise arising from the illegal drug trade.

There must be an inordinate amount of pressure and danger for bank insiders who try to blow the whistle on these money laundering activities. The lure of profits from laundered money must be great (surely greater than the settled fines) and the risk of crossing violent criminals with refusal to do business may be fatal.

Bloomberg’s piece also serves as testament to the fact that criminals will always find a way to work around intrusive laws, while law-abiding citizens who are not focused on evading the law will often be stymied or ensnared by these same regulations.

…No big U.S. bank — Wells Fargo included — has ever been indicted for violating the Bank Secrecy Act or any other federal law. Instead, the Justice Department settles criminal charges by using deferred-prosecution agreements, in which a bank pays a fine and promises not to break the law again…

…Large banks are protected from indictments by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory.

Indicting a big bank could trigger a mad dash by investors to dump shares and cause panic in financial markets, says Jack Blum, a U.S. Senate investigator for 14 years and a consultant to international banks and brokerage firms on money laundering.

The theory is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for big banks, Blum says.

“There’s no capacity to regulate or punish them because they’re too big to be threatened with failure,” Blum says. “They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they’re caught.”

Check out the full article, along with the related video clips from Bloomberg TV.

Related articles and posts:

1. Show us your money – Reason.

2. Feds sift through financial data – Finance Trends.