Stashing cash in spare tires, engine transmissions, and truckloads of baby diapers, couriers for Mexican drug cartels are moving tens of billions of dollars in profits south across the border each year, dirty money that has overwhelmed U.S. and Mexican customs agents, reports the Washington Post. Officials said stemming the flow of cash is essential if Mexico and the U.S. hope to disrupt powerful transnational criminal organizations that are using their wealth to corrupt, terrorize, and kill. Despite unprecedented efforts to thwart the traffickers, U.S. and Mexican authorities are seizing no more than 1 percent of the cash.
The major Mexican drug organizations write that off as the cost of doing business – losing a percentage far smaller than the fees for an ordinary wire transfer or ATM withdrawal. The Obama administration has proposed a $600 million surge in spending and personnel, including additional gamma-ray scanners and money-sniffing dogs, as part of an intensifying effort to capture the dollars going from U.S. drug consumers to Mexican mafias. The drug traffickers and their Colombian suppliers smuggle $20 billion to $25 billion in U.S. bank notes across the southwest border annually. Most of the money is smuggled in plastic-wrapped bricks of $20 bills. Often the bank notes retain the sticky residue or fine powder generated by the marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine sold to the most voracious consumers in the world. “Cash is the ultimate challenge for us,” said John Arvanitis of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It moves so rapidly, so fluidly. It crosses borders. It moves in bulk. It is stored in warehouses. It is moved into business. They have multiple, multiple options. They can hide a million dollars in a tractor-trailer, or they can carry it across the border in a handbag.”