If you are trying to detect hidden money you should look for asset search red flags like “smurfing¹.” Smurfing is a form of structuring cash deposits into bank accounts. It is one of the ways to secretly place cash into a money laundering circuit. When a bank customer in the U.S. deposits or withdraws $10,000 or more in cash, the bank must file a Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”). The bank files CTRs with FinCen which is a financial intelligence unit. To prevent the bank from filing a CTR, a smurf would make several cash deposits under $10,000. By structuring the cash deposits this way, the smurf hopes to fly under the radar.
ALLEGED SMURFING IN USA v. BAHADORIFAR, ET. AL.
Count Five of the 7/13/21 superseding indictment in USA v. Bahadorifar, et. al., 21 Cr. 00430(RA), highlights an alleged smurfing scheme. The smurfing scheme was supposedly carried out by California resident and department store employee, Ms. Niloufar Bahadorifar. Page 34 ¶¶ 41-42 of the 7/13/21superseding indictment at Count Five says:
[B]etween at least approximately April 2019 and May 2021, BAHADORIFAR structured cash deposits totaling at least approximately $505,822 at a financial institution in individual deposits of less than $10,000 each.
Additionally, page 9 ¶ 12 of the 7/13/21 superseding indictment claims that since July 2020, Ms. Bahadorifar made about $472,000 in unexplained cash deposits into her bank account. This allegedly included 98 cash deposits totaling approximately $444,000 that were each less than $10,000. Ms. Bahadorifar is also thought to have tried to secretly transfer money by using debit &/or credit cards.
THE SUSPECTED IRANIAN TERRORIST NETWORK
Meanwhile, an Iranian terrorist network, (“the Network”), may be the true beneficial owner of Ms. Bahadorifar’s alleged $472,000 in unexplained cash deposits. The Network is comprised of Iranian intelligence officers and/or their intelligence assets. It is reportedly tasked with kidnapping exiled Iranian dissidents for rendition to Iran. Once the kidnapped victims are back in Iran, they face imprisonment &/or execution. According to the 7/13/21 superseding indictment, the Network planned to kidnap Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who lives in exile in Brooklyn, NY. The Network apparently set its sights on Ms. Alinejad because she is vocal about the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses.
MISUSE OF PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS
During the alleged scheme to kidnap Ms. Alinejad for rendition to Iran, the Network allegedly hired licensed private investigators to place Ms. Alinejad under surveillance in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Network through its intelligence officers &/or intelligence assets hired the private investigators under the pretext of recovering money Ms. Alinejad supposedly stolen &/or supposedly owed to a foreign creditor. The Network is thought to have even hired a Manhattan-based private investigator to place a vehicle with a hidden camera in front of Ms. Alinejad’s Brooklyn home. This could provide the Network with live video monitoring of the home.
THE DECISION TO INITIATE OR DECLINE PROSECUTION
Even though the Network hired private investigators to surveil Ms. Alinejad, prosecutors declined prosecution of the private investigators.The prosecutors might have believed the Network duped the private investigators into surveilling Ms. Alinejad. Prosecutors similarly declined prosecution of Ms. Bahadorifar for a conspiracy to kidnap Ms. Alinejad. Prosecutors declined this prosecution although Page 9 ¶ 12 of the 7/13/21 superseding indictment alleges Ms. Bahadorifar “caused a payment to a private investigator for surveillance of [Ms. Alinejad]…”
Prosecutors are however, prosecuting Ms. Bahadorifar for alleged: smurfing (i.e. structuring bank deposits); conspiracy to commit money laundering; conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud; and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions against the Government of Iran. A review of the 7/13/21 superseding indictment additionally reveals that prosecutors are prosecuting 4 residents of Iran believed to work for the Network as intelligence officers &/or intelligence assets. At the 7/13/21 superseding indictment, the 4 are charged with conspiracies related to: kidnapping; money laundering; bank and wire fraud; and sanctions violations.
While deciding whether to prosecute Ms. Bahadorifar; the private investigators; and the 4 residents of Iran; prosecutors would have followed this guideline:
The attorney for the government should commence or recommend federal prosecution if he/she believes that the person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense, and that the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction, unless (1) the prosecution would serve no substantial federal interest; (2) the person is subject to effective prosecution in another jurisdiction; or (3) there exists an adequate non-criminal alternative to prosecution. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, United States Attorneys’ Manual 9-27.220 (updated February 2018).
KEY ELEMENTS OF THE SUSPECTED CRIMES
In addition to the suspected plot to kidnap Ms. Alinejad, the allegations at the 7/13/21 superseding indictment in USA v. Bahadorifar, et. al. seem to have the factual underpinnings of a terrorist financing case. Key elements of the suspected crimes in USA v. Bahadorifar include:
- Ms. Bahadorifar’s alleged smurfing / structuring of cash bank deposits;
- Ms. Bahadorifar’s alleged use of debit &/or credit cards to secretly transfer funds;
- the Network’s apparent misuse of private investigators to surveil Ms. Alinejad;
- and the Network’s alleged use of Iranian intelligence officers &/or intelligence assets to try to kidnap Ms. Alinejad.
Video: Courtesy of AMC Network Entertainment, LLC
Copyright 2021 Fred L. Abrams
¹I mention additional asset search red flags at my post available here.