FinCEN Issues GTO Covering the L.A. Fashion District as Part of Crackdown on Money Laundering for Drug Cartels

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The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced today the issuance of a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) that imposes additional reporting and recordkeeping obligations on certain trades and businesses located within the Los Angeles Fashion District. The GTO will enhance law enforcement’s ongoing efforts to identify and pursue cases against persons and businesses engaged in the illicit movement of U.S. currency to Mexico and Colombia on behalf of prominent drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).

The GTO, which will go into effect on October 9, was sought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which is working with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation division (IRS Criminal Investigation) to fight money laundering schemes designed to allow international drug cartels in Central America and South America to reach drug proceeds generated in the United States.

Extensive law enforcement operations have revealed evidence that money laundering activities and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) violations are pervasive throughout the Los Angeles Fashion District, which includes more than 2,000 businesses. Much of the money laundering is conducted through Black Market Peso Exchange schemes, also known as trade-based money laundering, in which drug money in the United States is converted into goods that are shipped to countries such as Mexico, where the goods are sold and money now in the form of local currency goes to the drug trafficking organizations.

On September 10, more than 1,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officials were in the Fashion District, where they executed dozens of search warrants and arrest warrants linked to businesses suspected to be engaged in money laundering schemes and evasions of required BSA reporting. Criminal investigations have revealed evidence that many of these businesses are routinely accepting bulk cash as part of schemes involving black market peso exchange and trade-based money laundering on behalf of DTOs based in Mexico and Colombia. During the Sept. 10 enforcement action, HSI special agents seized what was ultimately determined to be more than $90 million in currency. The cash was found at various residences and businesses stored in file boxes, duffel bags, backpacks and even in the trunk of a Bentley.