Money laundering (get it?)

If you read one story today, let it be Michael Smith’s very long and very interesting story in Bloomberg on how Mexican drug traffickers launder money through US banks like Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) and Bank of America.

The piece is long and excellent enough to defy excerpting, but let’s give it a shot:

For years, federal authorities watched as the wife and daughter of Oscar Oropeza, a drug smuggler working for the Matamoros-based Gulf Cartel, deposited stacks of cash at a Bank of America branch on Boca Chica Boulevard in Brownsville, Texas, less than 3 miles from the border.

The Oropeza case gives a new, literal meaning to the term money laundering. Oropeza’s wife, Tina Marie, and daughter Paulina Marie deposited stashes of $20 bills several times a day into Bank of America accounts, Salazar says. Bank employees got to know the Oropezas by the smell of their money.

“I asked the tellers what they were talking about, and they said the money had this sweet smell like Bounce, those sheets you throw into the dryer,” Salazar says. “They told me that when they opened the vault, the smell of Bounce just poured out.”

Yes, they were literally laundering money. I suppose to wash off the cocaine, or something.

The drug traffickers appear to be onto something obvious: In my personal, anecdotal, totally non-peer-reviewed experience, it is a hell of a lot easier to open bank accounts and move money in the United States than in Latin America.

Maybe someday soon, the war on drugs will also make it impossible to open a bank account in the US without presenting a copy of a university diploma.

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