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Feds bust drug money laundering ring

Feb. 18, 2013 at 2:53 PM

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. law enforcement officials said they broke up an international money laundering ring allegedly operated by a prominent Mexican drug cartel.

The group operating in Orlando, Fla., allegedly on behalf of the Los Zetas cartel, saw money traffickers caught with $2 million in an armored vehicle as they sought to do business with undercover agents, The Orlando Sentinel said Sunday. The Treasury Department later seized the $2 million and froze the assets associated with the front company -- some $130 million had already been laundered -- for the Los Zetas cartel, government officials said.

The cartels, law enforcement officials said, make billions selling cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine in the United States, but have faced problems converting that money back into the financial systems without raising alarms in their native Mexico. So instead, they smuggle the money back into Mexico, then give it to a middle man who drives it back into the United States under the guise of payments for legitimate business transactions, U.S. officials said. The money laundering can reach up to $1 million per day in the largest operations, investigators said.

"By exposing another key money operation tied to Los Zetas, Treasury is depriving the Zetas of an important avenue to launder their narco-dollars," Adam J. Szubin, the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control director, said in a statement.

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