Attorneys General from the southwest states have been ramping up their criticism of federal officials for allowing tens of billions in drug money each year to flow over the border from the U.S. into Mexico.
Terry Goddard, a former Arizona attorney general, says that the federal government must do a better job to prevent the Mexican drug cartels from reaping the cash rewards -- perhaps as much as $85 billion each year -- generated by the sales of their illicit products in the United States as reported by Mary Sanchez for The Kansas City Star:
This money is laundered and sent to Mexico using a number of means, including wire transfers, stored-value and prepaid access cards, currency brokers and front businesses. Yet federal efforts to stop and seize this flow has yielded paltry success. Why? It doesn’t seem to be a lack of understanding among federal enforcement authorities so much as a lack of will.
Echoing Goddard's criticisms, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King recently announced the formation of two teams to target money laundering operations in his state as reported by Diana M. Alba for Las Cruces Sun-News:
Gov. Susana Martinez, who was Dona Ana County's top state prosecutor before taking office in January, said the problem of drug-related money laundering is one she brought to the attention of federal officials about a decade ago in her work as district attorney. * * * "This should have been started a long time ago," she said of King's effort. "We should have moved on it a long time ago. This isn't a new problem."
The "money-laundering method of choice" is using U.S. exports into Mexico as reported by Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood for the Los Angeles Times:
Instead of smuggling the money the old-fashioned way, by simply carrying it south in bags and trucks, teams of money launderers working for cartels use dollars to purchase a commodity, and then export the commodity to Mexico or Colombia. Paperwork is generated that gives a patina of propriety. Drug money is given the appearance of legitimate proceeds from a trade transaction.
Following the money isn't a quick and easy job. Undercover agents with the DEA are infilitrating the money laundering operations of the Mexican drug cartels "to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are" as reported by Ginger Thompson for The New York Times: "as it launders drug money, the agency often allows cartels to continue their operations over months or even years before making seizures or arrests."