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Small-town cops take time off from writing tickets to launder money for drug dealers

Beginning in 2010, police from the upscale Florida community of Bal Harbour, in collaboration with the sheriff’s office of redneck Glades County, began a sting operation against some of the nation’s most dangerous drug organizations. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not much of a sting.

Posing as money launderers, these modern-day Keystone Cops took in more than $55 million from drug cartels and other criminal groups, and laundered it through hundreds of bank accounts. However, by the time the “sting” was over, they had made no arrests or drug seizures. All they did was pocket about $2 million for themselves, and returned the rest to the same drug-selling criminal groups that they were supposedly stinging. So, instead of just posing as money launderers, they decided to be the real thing, apparently realizing that committing crime is much more profitable than fighting it.

Where exactly the money went is unclear, because the cops didn’t bother to keep records, but investigations by the Miami Herald show that at least part of the money went to high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government.[1]

In the words of Dennis Fitzgerald, an attorney and former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who taught undercover tactics for the U.S. State Department, “They were like bank robbers with badges.” He added, “It had no law enforcement objective. The objective was to make money.” Another DEA agent observed, it was almost as if “they were just laundering money for the sake of laundering money.”[3]

The $2 million cut taken by the cops did have its perks, however. They spent tens of thousands traveling the country and staying at five-star hotels, and enjoyed the feeling of carrying around suitcases packed with cash. But, they also blew a fortune on such things as iPads, downloading songs, flower deliveries and even submachine guns.[2]

As a Florida criminal defense attorney put it, “Bal Harbour is this beautiful town that has absolutely no crime… I’m not even sure they need a police department. Why do they need machine guns? It’s outrageous.” Bal Harbour police are typically involved in nothing but “stopping traffic or shooting radar,” noted Ruben Oliva, a South Florida lawyer who specializes in money laundering cases. “This is like a movie. You’ve got these guys and they’re flying all over. They’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m in the big leagues.’ I’ve seen every kind of law enforcement money laundering investigations. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s really one for the ages.”[3]

As for the sheriff’s office of impoverished Glades County, it openly admitted that it took part in the “sting” simply because it needed the money. “We had to find a revenue stream,” said Duane Pottorff, chief of law enforcement for Glades. “It allowed us to have resources we wouldn’t normally have.”[3]

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