What We See Versus What You See

In the early morning hours at a quiet neighborhood a homeowner awakes to banging on his front door. The homeowner opens his door to find a young adult male bleeding profusely on his doorstep. A call is made to 911 and officers are dispatched. Once there an officer meets with the victim and is given a statement of a robbery involving three young men inside a home across the street. The ensuing investigation reveals two men inside a home had been tortured and murdered. The third young man had also been tortured and eventually died after giving the police a statement as to what had transpired; a drug robbery gone bad. The scene is described as horrific.

This sad tale happened in Fairfax County, Virginia, and unfortunately happens all too frequently throughout the United States and around the world. What financial institutions see is the beginnings of this drama. An individual enters a financial institution or a money services business and wires monies from the east coast to the west coast. This individual will go to two or three other businesses and wire the same amount to the same bank account. A different individual on the west coast will withdraw the monies and a shipment of marijuana or other illegal drugs will be sent through UPS, Fed-Ex, United States Postal Service, Mail Boxes ETC, or any other shipping service to the east coast. If the shipment of illegal drugs is not intercepted by law enforcement the drug distributor is now in business.

Individuals who launder money through financial institutions are often not violent criminals. Those monies though often can be traced back to violent crimes. A trial taking place right now in Texas involving a Mexican drug cartel laundered its proceeds in horses. This is what the public sees and what financial institutions see. It’s law enforcement that sees the senseless murders that are attributed to the illegal sales of drugs around the world.

A gentleman walks into a massage parlor and pays an amount for a massage using his credit card. A few minutes later the credit card is swiped again for a second transaction. The amount is much higher than the first transaction. Is this suspicious to you? In law enforcement this is recognizable as possible prostitution. What you as the financial institution see is the utilization of a credit card for services. What law enforcement sees is a possible adult or juvenile female placed into the sex slave business. The first swipe of the credit card is for the supposed legitimate massage. Usually the second swipe of the card is for illegal sexual services.

It is these types of cases that sometimes go undetected and unreported. It is the larger scale cases that are reported to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) through the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs).

An individual walks into a financial institution to deposit four thousand dollars into his/her savings account. The teller receives the cash and immediately detects the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the bills. The teller knows the smell of marijuana from life experience. The teller decides to not report the transaction as suspicious for fear of repercussions in answering questions as to knowing what marijuana smells like. This happens more often than you think.

Most people are happy with their lives as long as nothing interrupts the daily routine

An individual purchases a prepaid cash card and places cash on the card. This individual is a drug dealer. The illegal drug supplier is contacted and an order for illegal drugs is placed. The drug supplier requests the PIN code on the back of the prepaid cash card. The drug supplier then goes to a merchant and supplies the PIN number and receives cash from the card without the card or identification. The illegal drugs are then sent to the drug dealer and his illegal business is now in operation.

An individual (player) places illegal sports bets with his/her bookie. The player consistently loses throughout the season. The player has no more money and is in financial ruin. The bookie assists the player in obtaining a home loan to pay off the debts owed both legal and illegal. This is done through the assistance of the bookie’s girlfriend who is a real estate attorney. The player is now allowed to again place illegal sports bets and once again loses and is in financial ruin. The bookie and his girlfriend default on the player’s home and through the court system have the player and his family (wife and two young children) evicted.

The media shows the public dramatic scenes, pictures, and videos of crime scenes. This cannot replace being at the scene. Most people are happy with their lives as long as nothing interrupts the daily routine. It is when something dire happens and the daily routine is broken forever such as the banging on your front door in the middle of the night. The death of a loved one caused by a drug overdose, a daughter forced into a world of sex and slavery, or a money scam involving a large traumatic event seeking donations for victims. The list goes on and on.

In Texas recently two prosecutors and the wife of one of the prosecutors were murdered. The investigation led to a storage bin that contained evidence of the murder. The storage bin was rented under a fictitious name as was a vehicle that was found in the storage bin. The storage bin was located based on a tip from a close friend of the alleged perpetrator.

Theodore John Kaczynski (aka, the Unabomber) sent letters containing bombs until his capture. Upon his capture he had a letter bomb built and ready to mail. His capture was based upon a tip from a close family member, his brother.

It is extremely difficult for a family member or a family friend to come forward and tell law enforcement their loved one or friend maybe capable of murder. Just think what would have happened, if they hadn’t told law enforcement. How difficult is it to notify law enforcement of a complete stranger that just walked into your financial institution. And if the event did not qualify for your institution’s requirements for a suspicious activity report what stops you from calling law enforcement on your own whether you give them your name or remain anonymous.

The latest tragedy reminds us and should be imprinted in our minds, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.” What you see should be what we see, and then maybe we can make a difference together.  

James A. Cox III, CAMS, sergeant, Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax, VA, USA, James.Cox@fairfaxcounty.gov

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