MIAMI (WSVN) — Prosecutors have announced arrest warrants for 22 people, including three from South Florida accused of being involved in a large money laundering operation.
The warrants were announced Thursday. "The drug trafficking organizations in question were operating throughout the United States, but they used Miami’s strong international economy as the actual funnel for all of their money laundering operations," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
A warrant was also included for the suspected top money launderer for the Mexican drug cartel headed by "El Chapo." "The organization we are attacking today was capable of laundering approximately $1 million per month through businesses just in the Miami area," Rundle said.
Prosecutors said the money launderers hid their identities through the use of aliases. They also used throw-away Blackberry phones to communicate.
In order to get through pass codes on the phones, investigators used wiretaps, surveillance and reviewed thousands of financial transactions. "Drug dealers will pay a legitimate business in dollars to ship desired goods to Colombia," Rundle said. "Then, in Colombia, a legitimate business will pay the same group of drug dealers in Colombian pesos for those desired goods."
During the two-year probe, undercover agents laundered small portions of drug proceeds to help build their case against the suspects.
Investigators said pick-up spots for the drug money included a Starbucks in Doral, a parking lot at Dolphin Mall and a Dunkin Donuts in New Jersey. "Money laundering is a huge international enterprise, which too often touches our Miami community," Rundle said.
Many businesses in Miami do business with South America, including Colombia.