The village of Bal Harbour in Florida, population 2,513, sits on the northern tip of Miami Beach, and its police department had big ideas of how to go after international drug traffickers. They made millions of dollars while doing so. The problem? There were very few arrests and they were laundering cartel drug money.
The Bal Harbour Police Department and the Glades County Sheriffâ€™s Office set up a huge money laundering scheme with the supposed goal of busting drug cartels and slowing the surge of drug dealing going on in the area. But it all fell apart when federal investigators, along with the Miami-Herald, found many strange things going on.
The two-year operation, which brought in more than $55 million from various criminal groups, resulted in absolutely no arrests, but netted $2.4 million for the police who were posing as money launderers. Members of the 12-person task force traveled coast to coast to carry out their deals; from Los Angeles to New York to Puerto Rico.
During that time, the tiny-town cops got a taste of the big life, using the money for first-class flights, luxury hotels, computers and machine guns. Meanwhile, BHPD and the Glades County Sheriffs were buying all kinds of fancy new equipment.
Besides these â€œofficialâ€ uses of the money, confidential records obtained by the Miami-Herald showed that officers withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars with zero record or accountability of where the money went.
The operation, which was not fully reported to federal authorities, funneled millions of dollars to overseas criminals and interfered with investigations being carried out on other known money launderers.
The investigation showed at least 20 people in Venezuela were sent drug money from the Florida task force cops, including William Amaro Sanchez, the foreign minister for Hugo Chavez and now special assistant to President Nicolas Maduro.
They wired a total of $211,000 to Sanchez, even while the U.S. government was investigating Venezuelan government leaders involved in the drug trade. Instead of reporting their findings about Sanchez to federal agencies, the officers kept laundering money, taking their portion, and all the while aiding Sanchez in his aspirations, which may have included political corruption.
Four other Venezuelan criminals and smugglers were recipients of the millions being wired from the BHPD and Glades County Sheriffâ€™s Office too, including an individual tied to one of the largest drug cartels on this half of the planet.
The actions violate extremely strict federal bans on sending illegal money overseas, and the Florida officers never investigated the backgrounds of the people who were the luck recipients of their laundered drug money.
After the Department of Justice busted the Bal Harbour Police Department for misspending seized money to pay police salaries, the Miami-Herald began even deeper investigations and found a much bigger pool of money that was never noticed by the feds. Soon after that, the so-called sting operation, which was more of just a money-making scheme, began falling apart.
Cash deposits made to SunTrust Bank totaling a staggering $28 million don’t appear anywhere in police records whatsoever.
Federal authorities and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched probes into the Bal Harbour police, which will likely confirm the zealous abuse of power. But the fact that these types of shady operations, carried out with the help of agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, can occur at all is perhaps the most troubling.