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Why drug traffickers are investing in the US real estate market | News Univision Drug Trafficking

The US Treasury Department warned in a report released Friday that drug traffickers are buying residences in this country to launder money, invest in a stable market, as well as to grow, manufacture, store and sell drugs.

The report titled National Assessments on Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Proliferation Risks in 2022 It also warns that the acquisition of homes through legal entities and intermediaries, a method used by celebrities and millionaires seeking privacy, is an advantage for cartel operators, corrupt foreigners and organized crime characters.

“Given the relative stability of the real estate sector as a store of value, the opacity of the market, and the gaps in the regulation of the industry, the US real estate market continues to be used as a vehicle for money laundering,” says the analysis of 75 pages.

“The purchase of real estate can also provide a reliable way for criminals to store or conceal ill-gotten gains in an appreciable asset while benefiting from greater anonymity opportunities compared to other financial assets.”

The agency cites the case of a narcotics distributor who sourced from a Mexican cartel and used a portion of the $4.2 million he illicitly earned to buy houses in Kentucky. In March 2021, a federal judge sentenced him to 34 years in prison and ordered the forfeiture of a Blackthorn Trace residence, $428,000 in cash, and a watch with 596 diamonds.

In another case, a criminal organization selling large amounts of marijuana laundered money through two properties acquired in Las Vegas, in Nevada, using a fake owner. He also owned a business and several luxury cars, including a Lamborghini.

Also described is a Department of Justice (DOJ) civil forfeiture action that fingered a Florida investment firm that received millions of dollars in criminal proceeds from a cartel to acquire high-end commercial and residential real estate. Without investigating the origin of the money, the company bought a condominium building and another apartment building in Atlanta, Georgia.

Another example is that of Carlos Zelaya, a Honduran sentenced in 2018 for his role in laundering more than $1 million in foreign bribery payments and public funds originating from Honduras. According to the complaint, Zelaya worked with his brother, a former official of that country, to launder bribes. buying real estate in new orleans, including commercial property.

“The real estate sector represents a significant vulnerability that can facilitate money laundering schemes related to a wide range of crimes and sanctions evasion,” notes the Treasury Department.

“The use of real estate in money laundering could also affect prices in certain real estate markets, when wrongdoers deliberately overpay for property, prices can rise, putting legitimate buyers and sellers at an economic disadvantage,” it adds. .

The report indicates that the cities with the most suspicious real estate money laundering activities are Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. It highlights that the majority of foreign buyers in these metropolises, including those who do so legitimately, are from Mexico, Colombia and China.

This is how traffickers in Mexico move money

Mexican cartels, in particular, continue to use traditional methods of money laundering, such as trading in goods, banking transactions, sending remittances and the typical transportation of cash in cars across the border, mentions the analysis of the Department of the Treasure.

“Financial institutions, including banks and money service businesses, remain vulnerable to exploitation by cartels, which use shell and front companies and third parties (including money mules) to transfer profits from the United States to their base of operations,” the report states.

“The role of professional money launderers, particularly Chinese money laundering organizations, is also frequently cited as a significant and growing challenge for law enforcement agencies that track the movement of drug proceeds,” it adds. .

He warns, on the other hand, that drug traffickers “feel more and more comfortable” with the use of virtual assets and the so-called dark webwhere drug sales reached $315 million in 2020.

For the Treasury Department, the “largest and most sophisticated cartels that control transportation and distribution routes throughout Mexico and the United States” are the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). It highlights that they dominate the growing fentanyl market and, despite the pandemic, have continued to seek methods to send their illicit profits to Mexico.

This was the case of a federal operation in San Diego, California, which ended with the arrest of three members of the Sinaloa Cartel and the seizure of $3.5 million in cash and several kilos of cocaine and fentanyl that were in a truck depot at the Otay Mesa border crossing. It was about the largest seizure of money the DEA has ever made in Southern California.

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