Drugs and Money: Laundering Latin America's Cocaine Dollars

By Robert E. Grosse | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

The Mexican Connection: Operation Casablanca, 1995–99

Beginning in 1995 and continuing into 1998, the U.S. government ran a sting operation called Casablanca, offering to launder drug money in California for Colombian and Mexican narcotics traffickers. The sting captured a truly amazing collection of money launderers, drug traffickers, corrupt bankers, 1 and other assorted participants. This operation provides an up-to-date review of the common drug money laundering techniques used in the 1990s. It also shows the deep link between Colombian traffickers and their Mexican intermediaries when drugs are shipped through Mexico to the United States. Finally, the case points out some very real concerns about the money laundering problem in Mexico, where numerous bankers from various institutions were willingly involved in laundering money for the Juarez cocaine cartel, and where money launderers themselves were directly involved in cocaine trafficking.

Through ongoing law enforcement efforts in the early 1990s, U.S. anti-narcotics agents uncovered some of the activities of an enormous drug trafficking venture in Mexico—the so-called Juarez cartel, headed by Amado Carrillo-Fuentes. 2 While Carrillo-Fuentes was well known to the law enforcement community by 1995, he was still at large and had built probably the largest drug trafficking cartel in Mexico.

The activities of the Juarez cartel did not substitute for or necessarily compete with the Colombian cartels’ activities. Rather, the Mexican cartels complemented the Colombians’ drug trafficking by providing access to the U.S. market through Mexico. During the early 1990s, with a massive U.S. interdiction effort operating in the Florida Straits, the drug traffickers found Mexico a much more attractive trade route.

In addition to the physical shipments of cocaine, the Juarez cartel was able to arrange assistance to its Colombian clients in money laundering. This was

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