How The Government Set Up A Fake Bank To Launder Drug Money | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

How The Government Set Up A Fake Bank To Launder Drug Money

Play associated audio

In the early 1990s, Colombian drug cartels had a problem: They had more money than they knew what to do with.

"They were having a very difficult time with just the logistics of laundering millions and millions and millions of dollars every week," says Skip Latson, who worked for the DEA at the time.

So Latson and Bill Bruton, who was a special agent with the IRS, hatched a plan: They'd create a fake, offshore bank catering to the needs of the drug cartel.

Latson and Bruton got their bosses to sign on. Soon, RHM Trust Bank was up and running on Anguilla, an island in the Caribbean.

With the help of a South American informant, the bank started getting customers. The big Colombian cartels would send a fax saying they had cash in New York City or wherever. Someone would arrange a pickup, and the cash would be deposited in an account at the fake bank.

The money laundering world was surprisingly vast and sophisticated, with money hidden in the normal flow of international trade, in payments for things like tractor parts.

Latson and Bruton started collecting phone numbers, names and evidence, and pieced together how it all worked. One particularly effective trick: When some shadowy figure asked to withdraw money, they would stall for a day or so. That would often prompt the true owner of the account to call up and demand his money.

"We picked up more information by being a bad bank who didn't handle money quickly and effectively," Latson says.

The fake offshore bank was so successful, Bill and Skip eventually had to shut it down, for fear their cover might be blown.

In the end, 117 people in four countries were arrested in what became known as Operation Dinero. Usually, the secrecy of the offshore world makes life hard for people on the law-enforcement side. But this time, for a moment, the secrecy worked the other way. It made a sting operation possible.

And, while the operation clearly didn't end the drug trade or money laundering, Bruton and Latson say it at least made drug dealers wary of using banks to launder their money.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Selma' Manages To Be Both Passion-Inspiring And Measured

Critic Bob Mondello reviews Selma, Ava DuVernay's film chronicling Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic voting-rights march in 1965. Mondello notes that recent protests make the film resonate today.
NPR

Guyanese Christmas Gives A Whole New Meaning To Slow Food

Two classic Christmas dishes beloved by the people of Guyana are pepperpot and garlic pork. To get the flavors just right, you have to cook them and let them sit out for weeks.
NPR

With New Congress, Will Obama Work Differently?

The GOP-led Congress President Obama will have to deal with for the last two years of his presidency is a stark contrast to the Democratic-led one he came in with. Does that mean Obama will change his approach to dealing with Capitol Hill?
NPR

2014 Hashtags: #BringBackOurGirls Made Nigerian Schoolgirls All Of 'Ours'

As part of a series on hashtag activism in 2014, Audie Cornish speaks with Obiageli Ezekwesili of the Open Society Foundation. Ezekwesili was one of the early promoters of the hashtag #bringbackourgirls, about schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria in April.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.