A fraud investigator helped expose the shocking world of multi-billion dollar drug laundering by American banks and the surprising lack of oversight by the Feds.
Martin Woods, an Englishman in his mid-40s, is blessed with a Sherlock Holmes instinct and demeanor. Woods is an expert at sniffing out “dirty” money passing through International Banking Systems. A police officer for 18 years and later a detective with London Metro Police Agency, Woods capitalized on his unique expertise as a fraud expert by joining Wachovia’s London-based Bank in March 2005 as an anti-money laundering officer.
It wasn’t long after taking the job that he discovered that his own employer, one of America’s leading banks, was a major player in aiding the “bloodthirsty” Mexico drug cartels to launder billions of dollars in drug money through Wachovia banks. Woods traced and identified a “number of suspicious transactions” related to Mexico-based Casa de Cambios (CDC).
Casa de Cambios are currency-exchange operations set up along the U.S. Mexico-border to assist cross border transfers of money to remit labor paychecks. And on the illegal side the Casa de Cambios are also known as the superhighway for narcotic proceeds into the U.S. and overseas financial markets.
When Woods zeroed in on deposited traveler’s checks with sequential numbers sent by the CDC he discovered that large amounts of funds were exceedingly more than a typical person would need. The questionable CDC checks either lacked adequate identifying information or had none at all, including no legible signatures affixed on the funds.
Following this discovery investigator Woods issued a “suspicious activity report” (SAR) on a series of the CDCs’ financial transfers and deposits. Then he requested the CDC checks to be temporarily blocked from transaction pending further investigation.
Not long after, an exchange of heated words occurred. A senior Miami-based manager called Woods’ SAR reports “defensive and unwarranted.”
Feeling jaded, Woods, as he recalls, “came under fire from the bank staff to change tactics and develop a better understanding of Mexico.”
Wachovia officials ordered Woods to cease inquiries about Mexican CDCs and to also stop blocking other Eastern Europe and Moscow accounts. The British investigator, snapped, “I don’t need to read up on Mexico. My interest are drug trafficking and money laundering.”
His instincts proved correct. On April 10, 2006, during early morning hours, a DC-9 airplane landed onto the tarmac at the International Airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, located east of Mexico City. Once the engine turned off, military soldiers trained by U.S. FBI agents immediately grew suspicious and surrounded the aircraft. Armed with high-powered weapons, the soldiers searched the luxury plane and discovered five-plus tons of pure cocaine packed in suitcases.
The cocaine was valued at $120 million, and the Feds working with Mexico later determined the drugs were headed for the United States from Venezuela. A stash of paperwork found on the plane eventually identified discreet connections between an American bank and Mexico-based currency operation Casa de Cambios Puebla. A subsequent investigation would prove that Wachovia Bank washed billions of illegal drug money into the U.S. financial system on behalf of the Mexico-based Casa Cambios.
With U.S. Federal law enforcement backing him up, Martin Woods investigation assisted the Feds to build an airtight case against Wachovia. Starting off, the Feds discovered that $13 billion dollars in drug money was transferred by the CDC into correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia to purchase airplanes for the use of trafficking drugs from Colombia to Mexico and then the drugs were shipped to the U.S.
This high-profile investigation ultimately revealed that from 2004-2007, a staggering amount of illegal drug proceeds totaling $378.4 billion dollars were transferred into Wachovia by the Mexico-based Casa Cambios that violated U.S. government anti-money laundering compliance.