An investigative report by the Miami Herald published today reveals that two local Florida police agencies engaged in a slick money laundering scheme ripped from a Hollywood movie, reaping a whopping $2.4 million for themselves in drug money.
The Tri-County Task Force, which consisted of officers from two small police agencies, the Glade County Sheriff's Office and Bal Harbour Police Department, laundered millions of dollars via SunTrust Bank through countries including Panama and China, the Herald found.
Per the Herald:
The Tri-County Task Force turned a money-laundering investigation into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, spending lavishly on travel and dining while picking up suitcases stuffed with drug cash from as far away as Los Angeles and San Juan.
The officers used fake names to set up seven accounts, starting in 2009, with the help of SunTrust official Ivan Morales, laundering millions each month.
The so-called sting operation laundered a total of $71.5 million -- but did not result in any arrests. The illegal cash was moved overseas despite U.S. policy that forbids it.
In the course of the operation, officers picked up $152,740 from a woman pushing a baby stroller in Queens. The money was sent to Panama. The next month they did it again, but picked up the money from outside the Blue Bay Diner in Flushing, New York.
"They wanted to pump as much money as possible," Michael McDonald, a trial consultant and former Internal Revenue Service special agent who supervised money-laundering stings, told the Herald. "It was off the wall."
The task force has been disbanded, and officials are in the midst of trying to track down its lavish expenses, which include $100,000 laptops, iPads and other electronics. The officers flew first class, stayed at resorts for $350 a night and enjoyed dinners with $1,000 tabs.
"It was an off-the-charts, clandestine pot of money,” Jorge Gonzalez, the Bal Harbour village manager, told the Herald. "It seemed like they had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to do."