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August 2001 NYTIMES: Feds Running Fake Laundering Operation Out of WTC

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« on: May 14, 2011, 09:16:10 pm »

August 2001 NYTIMES: Feds Running Fake Laundering Operation Out of WTC

3 Caught in a Sting Are Charged With Laundering $8 Million in Drug Money
Published: Friday, August 17, 2001

A brokerage house in the World Trade Center had earned a reputation for handling illicit transactions in a very businesslike manner. It would wire money to businesses and banks around the world, without generating receipts or filing transaction reports, as required by law.

The only problem was that the money-laundering operation was staffed by some very legitimate people: undercover officers working for Manhattan prosecutors and the Police Department with help from the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies.

Yesterday, as a result of the sting operation, officials announced the indictment of a mother and her two sons on charges of laundering $8 million in drug money through the phony brokerage house.

The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said yesterday that officials still expected to charge many more. The mother and sons, Luz Mariana Gomez Alzate, Andres Botero and Hernan Dario Botero, face 25 years in prison under a new state money-laundering statute that made the operation worthwhile, Mr. Morgenthau said.

Ms. Alzate, who officials said directed her sons to pick up 40 different bundles of cash from people at subway stations, cars and other sites throughout Manhattan and the other boroughs and bring them to the brokerage office, was arrested on Aug. 7 as she arrived in Madrid on a flight from Colombia.

Her sons were arrested the same day at their apartment in Woodside, Queens.

The sting operation, conceived by Ronald Rose, a retired lieutenant who was an organized-crime investigator for the Police Department, involved 10 government agencies. The busy, sophisticated and seemingly well-connected brokerage house, which the authorities declined to name, is staffed entirely by detectives and opened in May 1999 at the World Trade Center.

Word quickly spread on the street that the brokers there would take cash from illicit transactions and wire it around the world without generating a paper trail.

''We didn't advertise,'' Mr. Rose said. ''They came to us.''

Prosecutors said that the defendants were among the brokerage house's clients. And as Mr. Morgenthau said yesterday, ''We watched as this family used ruses straight out of the movies to get the money from the hands of the drug dealers to the undercover offices for it to be cleansed and redistributed.''

Investigators watched the Botero brothers as they retrieved the cash from individuals, cars and subway stations, officials said. Then they took it to the brokerage house, carrying it in packets, duffel bags and shopping bags from upscale stores, officials said, in amounts ranging from $30,000 to $400,000.

Under the direction of the mother, known as Patricia Alzate, the brokers wired the money to more than 100 banks in the United States, Europe, South America and Asia into the accounts of jewelry businesses, investment and insurance companies and airlines, officials said.
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