The US treasury department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has revealed publicly how its recent Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) are generating meaningful leads in cases of trade-based financial crime and money laundering.

A GTO is an order requiring any US domestic financial institution within a geographic area to report on transactions any greater than a specified value.

One geographic area concerning FinCEN is the US-Mexico border at two California ports of entry, which was designated a GTO so the authorities could better see and trace cross-border movements of trade and cash.

Armoured cars

FinCEN has taken the rare step of publicly revealing that information generated by a GTO in that location led Homeland Security Investigations agents to uncover a trade-based money laundering (TBML) scheme that chanelled US$45 million from southern California to Mexico.

This GTO required banks to reveal details of a company trading in armoured car sales and services and several more related companies trading in the US and Mexico.

Shell companies

Investigators discovered that one company was being paid in US dollars and Mexican pesos from Mexico and depositing these payments in shell company bank accounts that were opened and operated by the two individuals who owned and operated the armoured car company.

Investigators discovered they shared an address with several other companies owned by the same individuals.

Bank order

Using the powers vested in them under the GTO, investigators ordered banks to disclose financial records of the companies.

These revealed records of transfers of US$45 million over a 15-month period which were then paid in and out of the accounts of the various companies owned by the individuals before ultimately being wired to Mexico.

Guilty pleas

As a result of the investigation and discovery of the TBML and other money laundering schemes, both individuals pleaded guilty to violations regarding failures to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme.

They also forfeited hundreds of thousands of US dollars and Mexican pesos.