By Clarence Walker
"Money is the Root of All Sorts of Evil"
Martin Woods, of Liverpool England, is a noble Englishman in his mid-40's. Blessed with a Sherlock Holmes instinct--with gray-streaked blond hair, and laser sharp eyes. Woods is an expert at sniffing out "dirty" money passing through International Banking Systems.
A police officer for 18 years and later a detective with London Metro Police Agency, Woods (right) capitalized on his unique expertise as a fraud expert by joining Wachovia's London-based Bank in March 2005 as an anti-money laundering officer.
It wasn't long after taking the job that he discovered that his own employer, one of America's leading banks was a major player in aiding the 'bloodthirsty' Mexico drug cartels to launder billions of dollars in drug money through Wachovia banks. Woods traced and identified a "number of suspicious transactions" related to Mexico-based Casa de Cambios (CDC).
Casa Cambios are currency-exchange operations which are set up along the U.S. Mexico-border to assist cross border transfers of money to remit labor paychecks. And on the illegal side the Casa Cambios are also known as the superhighway for narcotic proceeds into the U.S. and overseas financial markets.
When Woods zeroed in on deposited traveler's checks with sequential numbers sent by the CDC he discovered that large amounts of funds were exceedingly more than a typical person would need. The questionable CDC checks either lacked adequate identifying information or had none at all, including no legible signatures affixed on the funds.
Following this discovery investigator Woods issued a "suspicious activity report" on a series of the CDCs' financial transfers and deposits. Then he requested the CDC checks to be temporarily blocked from transaction pending further investigation.
Not long after, an exchange of heated words occurred. A senior Miami-based manager called Woods 'SAR' reports as "defensive and unwarranted."
Feeling jaded, Woods, as he recalls, "came under fire from the bank staff to change tactics and develop a better understanding of Mexico."
Wachovia officials ordered Woods to cease inquiries about Mexico CDCs' and to also stop blocking other Eastern Europe and Moscow accounts. The British investigator, snapped, "I don't need to read up on Mexico. My interest are drug trafficking and money laundering."
His instinct proved correct. On April 10, 2006, during early morning hours, a DC-9 airplane landed onto the tarmac at the International Airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, located east of Mexico City. Once the engine turned off, military soldiers trained by U.S. FBI agents immediately grew suspicious and surrounded the aircraft. Armed with high-powered weapons, the soldiers searched the luxury plane and discovered five-plus tons of pure cocaine packed in suitcases.
The cocaine was valued at $120 million and the Feds working with Mexico later determined the drugs was headed for the United States from Venezuela. A stash of paperwork found on the plane eventually identified discreet connections between an American bank and a Mexico-based currency operation called CDC (Casa de Cambios Puebla).
These Cambios are known fronts operated by Mexican drug cartels. A subsequent investigation would prove that Wachovia Bank washed billions of illegal drug money into the U.S. financial system on behalf of the Mexico-based Casa Cambios.
With U.S. Federal law enforcement backing him up, Martin Woods investigation assisted the Feds to build an airtight case against Wachovia. Starting off, the Feds discovered that $13 billion dollars in drug money was transferred by the CDC into correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia to purchase airplanes for the use of trafficking drugs from Colombia to Mexico and then the drugs were shipped to the U.S.
This high-profile investigation ultimately revealed that from 2004-2007, a staggering amount of illegal drug proceeds totaling $378.4 billion dollars were transferred into Wachovia by the Mexico-based Casa Cambios that violated U.S. government anti-money laundering compliance.
Following these findings a slew of federal charges filed in 2009 by Federal prosecutors in Florida hit Wachovia with the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act in U.S. history.
Douglas Edwards, senior vice president of Wachovia Bank confessed they didn't do enough to spot illicit funds in handling the $378.4 billion for the Mexico's Casa Cambios. But Edwards declined to answer specific questions including how much they earned for handling the billions of dollars for the currency operation.
Overall, the amount of drug proceeds( $378 billion dollars) that the CDC deposited into Wachovia Bank actually equaled 1/3 of Mexico's entire $1.4 trillion dollars annually in "Gross Domestic Products".
By the time Wachovia agreed to pay the hefty fine, Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia during the banking crisis for $12.7 billion. Then Well Fargo reaped a windfall from the government, a gift of $25 billion dollars of taxpayer’s money as part of President Obama stimulus package in 2009.
As part of the agreement Wachovia agreed to pay the government a fine of $110 million dollars with an additional fine of $50 million dollars to be paid to the U.S. Treasury Department. The total fine of $160 million dollars was less than 2% of the bank's $12.3 billion dollars in profit made in 2009.
What is interesting about the additional $50 million fine is this: the $50 million dollars from Wachovia's drug proceeds is laundered once again through the Treasury Federal Reserve and the government makes another hefty profit from 'dirty' proceeds.(Though it can be seen as good that Wachovia was punished in some way, the fine represent how the government make millions off drug tainted money and never criticize themselves.)
"Today, we announce the deferred prosecution of Wachovia, one of the largest banks in the United States, said U.S. Jeffrey Sloman on March 12, 2010. "Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations by laundering drug proceeds."
Sloman further stated, "as this case demonstrates, financial institutions---no matter how large will be held accountable when they allow 'dirty' money to pollute the U.S. banking system."
The Wachovia scandal sent fears into the banking industry among prominent members because now they suspected the Feds would crack down more heavily against foreign customers, particularly Mexico.
In a interview with a Daily Business Review reporter, International Banking Attorney Clemente Vazquez-Bello, said, "The concern, obviously, in the industry is are we going to pay for the sins of Wachovia."
"It's mind-boggling beyond comprehension that in the compliance world that an institution of their size and stature would have permitted these enormous deficiencies."
Like the bible says, "money is the root of all sorts of evil".
Mexican Drug Cartel
Mexican drug lords are among the world's most dangerous and wanted criminals. They are savage, rich, with incredible ability to kill and behead humans, and transport massive shipments of narcotics into the United States and throughout the world. They profit billions from the prohibitionist drug policies of the U.S. government.
When Mexico president Felipe Calderon took office in December, 2006, he immediately ordered the armed forces to kill or capture the cartels including their members and associates. So far, the unrelenting violence has killed more than 35,000 people, with 15,000 last year. Overall, the stark reality in this ongoing brutal and sadistic violence has failed to stem the drug war.
Considering the tremendous amount of proceeds that the CDC transferred in-and-out of Wachovia bank raise a provocative question: How Mexico drug gangsters convinced respectable commerce businesses in the U.S. to turn a blind eye to all the money they flooded into American banks? Either banking officials were asleep at the wheel or tacitly ignored the shady business going on to boost profits for themselves.
"The failure of U.S. banks to take adequate steps to prevent money laundering is a widespread and ongoing problem," said Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin in February 2010.
Daniel Hopsicker (right), an investigative journalist wrote stories about the Wachovia drug cartel scandal on his website www.madcowmorningnews.com. Hopsicker's investigation uncovered the fact that the airplanes that was busted with cocaine and purchased through Wachovia with illegal drug funds, these same airplanes previously had a steamy relationship with CIA and National Defense contractors.
Disappointed that the case against Wachovia didn't go to a criminal trial which got them off the hook, investigator Woods lamented, "Bankers will continue to take dangerous risks because the deferred prosecution concludes there's no personal consequences for their actions."
"We were hoping the case against Wachovia went to trial because the laundering of drug money was related to organized crime, drug trafficking and thousands of murders in Mexico."
Since Wachovia paid the government a measly fine of $160 million dollars out the billions they made in profits from this dirty scheme, perhaps U.S. Senator Carl Levin should demand a subcommittee hearing on banking affairs to track down the rest of the billions that the Mexico-based Casa Cambios funneled to Wachovia. To reiterate, all the billions handled through Wachovia was illegal. An investigation is needed immediately.
Antoino Maria Costa, former executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in 2008, "there's evidence to suggest that proceeds from drugs and crimes were the only liquid investment capital for banks in trouble of collapsing(during the 2008 financial crisis)."
If billions of dollars in drug money rescued banks and other financial institutions from closing down then it's reasonable to argue that the economy itself is addicted to drugs.
As professor Dale Scott noted in his book, "American War Machine: Deep Politics; the CIA Global Drug Connection": "A U.S. Senate staff chaired by the banking committee reportedly estimated that between $500 billion and $1 trillion dollars are laundered each year through banks worldwide, with approximately half of that amount funneled through U.S. Banks."
The London Independent newspaper reported in 2004 that drug trafficking constituted "the third-biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade."
"New York and London are the world's biggest financial institutions for money laundering and offshore tax havens," Woods told this journalist during recent interview. "New York is the global currency for legitimate and criminal business because it is offshore to everywhere. And London is the world's biggest financial center by value and volume."
How Martin Woods Exposed Wachovia's Drug Money Laundering Scheme.
Back in 2001, Martin Woods played an instrumental role in helping U.S. authorities to crack a Russian-based money laundering scheme involving Lucy Edwards, Vice President of Bank of New York. Wood's tenacious undercover work led the FBI to charge Edwards and her husband with laundering illegal proceeds for the Russian Mob.
In March 2005, as mentioned earlier, Woods joined the London branch of Wachovia Bank as a senior anti-money laundering officer. Woods strategic M.O. was to safeguard the company from cleverly disguised illegal proceeds by implementing bank policies referred to as "Know Your Client" (KYC).
KYC requires investigators and banking officials to identify dirty money ranging from fraud, tax evasion, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing as the primary target.
Once fraud was detected Woods would make a report to Wachovia Bank headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. So when the Mexico-based Casa Canbios began sending suspicious funds into the bank, Woods implemented an enhanced transaction monitoring program to retrieve more intricate details on customers making deposits. He struck gold.
Woods identified similar numerous "suspicious transactions" of proceeds deposited into Wachovia banks that was traced back to Casa Cambios in Mexico.
The funds in question were traveler cheques in euros. A close inspection of the cheques showed the lack of 'know your client' information and the cheques had no legible signatures.
"It was basic work," Woods later recalled in his whistleblower lawsuit against Wachovia. He pointed out how the Mexico-based CDC failed to answer simple questions: "Is the transaction real? Does the cheques meet the protocols? Is it all there, and if not, why not?"
Prior to Wachovia hiring Martin Woods in 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department had already issued warning alerts to foreign and American-based banks explaining that Mexico-based CDCs' were primarily owned by kingpin drug cartel Joaquin "el Chapo" Guzman. In 2006, the Feds, working with Mexico identified six CDCs' that laundered $120 million dollars in drug money for the Arellano Felix cartel.
Treasury officials said the CDCs were used exclusively by money launderers to transfer or exchange the value of Mexican hard currency that was sent to bank accounts in the United States or other countries to conduct financial commerce.
The U.S. government further said that the CDCs' did not operate in the same manner the way banks operated in the United States, nor did the CDCs' provide or maintained checking accounts, savings accounts or any commercial banking services.
Alarmed over the CDC transactions, Woods reviewed previous wire transfers that CDC sent and he was shocked to learn that the techniques the CDC had used earlier duplicated the scheme. For instance, a retrack of CDC transactions revealed lack of sufficient information to identify the true identities of the individuals that sent the money from the CDC businesses in Mexico.
Realizing the wire transfers from the CDCs' was most likely a money laundering operation, Martin Woods, the Sherlock Holmes detective began an inquiry by filing 'suspicious activity reports' (SARs) and sent them to the London authorities and he also sent duplicate SARs' to Wachovia supervisors in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Following the SARs' alert, Woods requested the Wachovia banking system to deny Mexico-based CDC's sequentially numbered traveler's cheques.
Satisfied he'd done his job, Woods expected Wachovia to respond accordingly with an internal investigation into his discovery of the CDC's banking operations.
As an investigator, Martin Woods held the belief that it was his duty to prevent criminals from polluting Wachovia Bank with illegal proceeds and that the bank would back him up.
He was wrong.
Dirty work at the cross road awaited him. Wachovia's top-level officials became his worst enemy that culminated into a force of subterfuge to undermine his superior work and destroy his credibility.
According to court records, on June 16, 2007, Wachovia ifficials challenged Woods for filing the "suspicious activity reports" (SAR). They argued that the SARs' should have never been filed against Mexico-based CDCs' and that Woods had no legal clout to investigate a foreign case.
Adding injury to insult the bank officials said Woods had no 'right' to access sensitive documents held overseas from Britain, regardless if Wachovia maintained the documents.
Following confrontations with Wachovia staff, Woods received a letter from a manager calling him a failure to perform at acceptable standards.
Apparently the controversy surrounding the proceeds that CDC was sending into the bank finally took effect. A few months later Woods noticed something odd: the Casa Cambio Puebla, simultaneously stopped routing traveler's checks through Wachovia's London branch.
A gut instinct motivated the investigator to ask Wachovia's American-based banks if they seen a similar routing change involving CDC traveler's checks.
His request caused an uproar from Wachovia's Miami-based manager Carlos Perez. Perez managed the Latin American accounts owned by the CDC Puebla. Visibly upset, Perez angrily questioned Woods, demanding to know "why he had problems when there was no problems when the CDC sent traveler's checks to London."
Meanwhile Martin Woods was overwhelmed with stress and frustration. Each attempt he made to crack this monstrous case his superiors sabotaged the investigation. During a conference held in London with foreign and U.S. federal law enforcement agents, Woods informed the DEA and FBI of his suspicion about the amount of quesionable funds that the CDCs' were sending into Wachovia banking systems.
He further told the agents that he suspected the involvement of certain top-level officials in helping the CDCs' to launder drug profits into Wachovia banks.
U.S. federal authorities immediately started an investigation beginning with the Wachovia branch in Miami Florida. "A narcotic investigation always involve two things and that's drugs and money," said Mark R. Trouville, the Special Agent in charge of Miami's DEA field division.
Once U.S. investigators confirmed Woods' suspicion they put in a lot of time to examine the SARs' that he sent from London to Wachovia's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
And Wachovia offered no blunt resistance or sabotage. "I felt good that the U.S. federal government wouldn't be intimidated by Wachovia," Woods wrote in an email sent to the author of this story.
Following a long deceitful trail of cover-ups by Wachovia to protect the CDCs' illegal proceeds the Feds soon discovered that Casa Cambio Puebla, one of Wachovia's long-term customers had deposited hundreds of millions of dollars into different accounts at the bank.
The mastermind behind CDC Puebla was Pedro Alatorre, a savvy businessman who fronted the CDCs' as a money laundering operation for the Mexico cartels, specifically the Sinaloa and Gulf drug syndicates. Evidence showed the CDC Puebla owned over 40 interbank accounts at Wachovia branches in Miami, New York and London.
Things began to heat up. On May 26, 2007, DEA seized CDC Puebla accounts at Wachovia's bank in Miami Florida. The Feds contacted Mexico law enforcement and they agreed to help.
During the investigation Mexico agents started watching Alatorre's operation and they observed undercover couriers carrying "clear plastic bags" stuffed with cash that was transported to Alatorre's Puebla branch located at the Mexico City Airport.
"I am sure Wachovia knew what was going on," says Mexico Attorney General Jose Luis Marmolejo, who supervised the investigation against Wachovia's CDC customers.
In May 2008, the U.S. Justice Department charged Alatorre and his group with federal money laundering charges. Alatorre is fighting extradition to the United States. Investigators made additional arrests of cartel members who deposited drug proceeds into Bank of America in Brownsville Texas. Drug money was also detected in banks in Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, and New York.
Infuriated over the mistreatment by certain members of Wachovia's staff, Martin Woods, took a leave of absence to seek counseling. Convinced he was battling against enemies from within his work place, Woods filed a whistleblower lawsuit in May 2009 against Wachovia with London Employment Tribunal.
Cocaine Airplanes: The Wachovia Connection
Journalist Daniel Hopsicker is the host and writer of the prominent website 'Madcowmorningnews' (MCMN). He's also the exclusive producer of the highly-rated documentary DVD movie "American Drug Lords". Hopsicker is the investigative journalist who reported on his website the embarrassing, but true details of the two airplanes caught red-handed on separate occasions with tons of cocaine on board including Wachovia's connections with these aircrafts.
In a interview with this writer, Hopsicker noted, "When Wachovia paid a $160 million fine for a decade-long history of laundering billions of drug money for Mexican drug cartels, it spotlighted the preferential treatment given some participants in the international drug trade."
Hopsicker deadpanned: "An incredible $378 billion dollars had been laundered through Wachovia Bank whose money origins, according to U.S. prosecutors, were murky."
Hopsicker posed the billion dollar question: "How much did Wachovia make for washing all that filthy lucre?"
"The figure was never revealed although Wachovia had been operating as what federal prosecutors called, 'continuing criminal enterprise'. Yet Wachovia was allowed to plead guilty to laundering a fraction of that amount and was only fined $160 million dollars, then sold off to Wachovia."
Regarding Wachovia's dark secrets involving the purchase of U.S. registered narco airplanes that were caught transporting cocaine, Hopsicker unraveled the dirty trail.
"Both of the drug-running American airplanes cited---a DC-9 airliner (tail# N900SA) (was) also caught in the Yucatan in 2008 carrying 4 tons of cocaine which had connections with the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) and the Department of Homeland Security."
Hopsicker gave the low down on the second airplane. "The Gulfstream was---or had been---a CIA plane. And the officers of Skyway Aircraft which owned the airplanes included former CIA and NSA (National Security Agency) operatives."
"One would think an important story of this magnitude would make headlines in every American newspaper and major TV networks including cable programs. But none of the prominent news media outlets reported the story of the U.S. registered aircrafts caught with the narcotics."
Hopsicker concluded, "with the exception of several stories written by Tampa Tribune reporter Howard Altman, those embarrassing details received zero exposure in America's mainstream media." Hopsicker also pointed out that Bloomberg Magazine reporter Michael Smith who wrote an extensive article about Wachovia's sordid history of laundering drug money for Mexican drug cartels did little to inspire interest.
"My investigation into the airplanes further uncovered a paper trail of FAA registration documents that revealed hidden connections between Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Wachovia Bank and their American partners: people who the DEA insists don't exist: "The American Drug Lords."
Greed and Corruption: A Continuing Criminal Enterprise
A confession by Wachovia Bank executives last year indicating they laundered billions of dollars in drug money for the CDC was historic, and highly revealing of their approach to business. The executives had already been warned by U.S. Treasury Department of the serious risks associated with the CDCs.
As early as June 2004, the Treasury Department and banking regulators sent letters to U.S. banks indicating that the CDCs' were illegal money laundering operations; the letter appeared to encourage, not dissuade Wachovia from going after the CDC's drug tainted money.
In the legal agreement, Wachovia confessed to taking over other large banks after terminating their contract with Mexico-based CDCs' based on warnings from FBI, DEA and Treasury Department. Despite repeated warnings, Wachovia washed the bloody profits belonging to Mexican drug cartels to take their own cut.
To fill the void left behind by other competing banks who maintained business accounts for the CDC, Wachovia executed a clever scheme. In September 2005, Wachovia purchased the 'rights' to solicit the international banking customers of Union Bank of California (UBOC).
The UBOC had backed off from doing business with the CDCs' after warning letters from the Treasury Department. Wachovia wooed the CDC customers of UBOC into doing business with Wachovia although UBOC had already paid the government a fine of $31.6 million dollars for laundering over $20 million dollars in drug money for a Mexico-based currency operation called Ribadeo Casa.
Once UBOC ceased the CDC operation, Wachovia 'sweeten the deal' by hiring a former UBOC manager who previously supervised the CDCs' accounts and the manager even helped Wachovia's Miami branch to set up the structure of wire transfers. This under-the-table scheme increased Wachovia's business volume with the regular CDC customers.
Under Deferred Prosecution Agreement, here is an additional list of Federal Banking rules and laws that Wachovia also apparently violated to wash billions in profits:
(1) Pursuant to Title 31, U.S. Code, Section 5318, Wachovia failed to establish and maintain an anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program which provides internal policies, procedures and controls designed to guard against money laundering.
(2) Under same Federal Statue, Wachovia failed to implement risk-based programs to verify and record the identity of customers, like the Mexico-based CDCs'. If Wachovia officials would have properly complied with their own AML procedures they would have traced the origins of the CDCs' suspicious transactions, first reported by whistleblower Martin Woods.
(3) Wachovia was also required, Pursuant to rule 31, U.S. code, to file 'suspicious activity report' called the "SAR" with U.S. Treasury Department. But when investigator Woods filed SARs', he was demonized, bullied, and demoted in rank by Wachovia management.
(4) Wachovia intentionally violated banking policies and ignored their own internal policies to assist the CDCs' to launder illegal money into the U.S. Financial System and also failed to govern the repatriation of nearly $14 billion that came from the high-risk CDC business.
(5) Failure to detect and report suspicious activity in a timely manner of the $378.4 billion that Wachovia processed through wire transfers for Mexico-based CDCs'.
(6) When British investigator Martin Woods warned Wachovia of the CDCs' suspicious traveler's checks without legible names and that the names were either handwritten or stamped with numbers and letters, the bank also failed to properly investigate Woods complaints---thus allowing the CDC to launder illegal funds from May 1, 2004, through May 31, 2007.
(7) Between September 2005 and December 2007, Wachovia provided correspondent banking service to several Mexico-based Casa Cambios and also provided them with three valuable services to wash drug profits: