By John A. Cassara // April 7, 2014
Gold-plated handguns. Million dollar pieces of art. Exotic wildlife. These and other ostentatious symbols of wealth were reportedly found at some of the properties formerly owned by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman – Mexico’s top drug kingpin. But it was the bulk cash, mostly in carefully stacked $100 notes, that caught my attention. Reports from Mexico speculate the money recovered could eventually exceed one billion dollars. While that number is hard to digest, there can be no doubt that before his February 21 arrest, the former godfather of the Sinoloa Cartel controlled an organized criminal enterprise conservatively estimated to have pulled $3 billion in annual revenue.
According to experts at the Financial Action Task Force, bulk cash smuggling is one of the three principal international money laundering methodologies. Bulk cash refers to the large amounts of currency notes that criminals can accumulate through illicit activity – particularly narcotics trafficking. Smuggling, in the context of bulk cash, refers to money launderers’ subsequent attempts to physically transport the cash from one country to another – for example from the United States to Mexico—where it is easier to launder.
While estimates of U.S. narcotics sales vary widely from $50 billion to $100 billion annually ...