Assets & Narco-Trafficking

Today’s post mentions how a tip collected from Colombian authorities revealed a bribery scheme thought to involve drug kingpin Jose Bayron Piedrahita-Ceballos.

During your asset search gather tips from witnesses who not only know about your adversary’s assets but are also at odds with your adversary. If you are litigating against your adversary you might collect tips from these witnesses by deposing them. Additionally, you should consider hiring a private investigator to conduct witness interviews to sniff out tips concerning your adversary’s assets. A witness interview I attended alongside an investigator is described at my post: “An Asset Search By Pursuing Interviews & Tips.”

The public corruption case brought against former Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Christopher V. Ciccione, II (“Ciccione”), could show the importance of gathering tips when searching for assets. U.S. law enforcement officials collected a tip which led them to discover illicit assets or bribes given to Ciccione: about $20,000 in cash; a Rolex watch worth approximately $12,000; a hotel stay at the Marriott in Bogota, Colombia; a party; a dinner; liquor; & the services of prostitutes. The tip originated from governmental authorities in Colombia who had tapped phones & detected the apparent bribery scheme between Ciccione & Colombian narcotics kingpin Jose Bayron Piedrahita Ceballos (“Piedrahita”). At his 11/30/17 Factual Basis For Plea, Ciccione admitted taking the bribe payments, except for the Rolex watch.

Ciccione admitted that while a Special Agent, he took the bribes to orchestrate the dismissal of Piedrahita’s drug trafficking indictment filed in federal court in Florida. Ciccione’s 11/30/17 Factual Basis For Plea Agreement explained Ciccione had improperly obtained official authorization for Piedrahita & Piedrahita’s family to enter into the U.S. It also said Ciccione leaked the names of 2 DEA confidential informants to Mr. Juan Carlos Velasco Cano, who was Piedrahita’s associate. On 9/21/17 Ciccione was indicted for his role in the alleged scheme & on 2/9/18 Ciccione was sentenced to serve 3 years in prison. Two more Asset Search Blog posts mentioning tips include “Mr. Benjamin’s Divorce & His White Collar Crimes” & “Warsaw Prosecutors Eye Possible Money Laundering At 50 Platowcowa Street.”

Image: Courtesy of U.S. Treasury’s Office Of Foreign Assets Control

Copyright 2018 Fred L. Abrams

 The TV shanking of fictional lawyer Dan Wachsberger at Breaking Bad’s 54th episode.  In the 53rd episode, Wachsberger hid monies in safety deposit boxes & became a DEA informant.

shutterstock_213220519Say My Name” is the 53rd episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad series & it showed fictional lawyer Dan Wachsberger hiding illicit drug monies in at least nine safety deposit boxes for his clients.  After DEA Special Agents catch Wachsberger hiding monies, he became an informant for the DEA & was held in prison.  In the 54th episode “Gliding Over All”, drug kingpin Walter White then hires a gang of white supremacists to kill Wachsberger along with 9 others held in 3 separate prisons.

How many lawyers in the real world hide their clients’ assets like fictional lawyer Wachsberger had done?  I do not know the answer but speculate it is a relatively small number of lawyers.  Meanwhile, some beneficial owners including divorcing spouses; tax cheats; judgment debtors; narcotraffickers; etc. undoubtedly employ lawyers to hide assets.  These beneficial owners hire their lawyers to act as intermediaries/nominees.  The beneficial owners may then transfer their monies into nominee bank accounts titled in the name of the lawyers or titled in the name of shell companies formed by the lawyers.  When these transfers occur there can be red flags indicating the lawyers were involved.  You can sometimes spot the red flags during: an asset search of a person or business entity; the pretrial discovery phase of a litigation; or other times.

There can also be a variety of red flags indicating that a lawyer might have been employed to wrongfully conceal assets.  For example, one divorcing wife supplied me with copies of letters she found in the marital residence she shared with her husband. The letters were from an offshore lawyer to the husband and they revealed the husband possessed a secret offshore bank account worth millions of dollars.  In yet another ultra-high net worth divorce, the red flags were an informant’s tips.  According to these tips & the corroborating evidence I collected, the divorcing husband and his lawyer laundered assets through offshore bank accounts & other elements located across the globe.

Video: Courtesy of AMC Network Entertainment, LLC

Breaking Bag Image: CarmenKarin/

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

An April 20, 2010 statement from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona memorializes the U.S. Department of Justice strategy for fighting the scourge of Mexico’s drug cartels.  The April 20th statement indicates that the Department of Justice concentrates on: gathering intelligence about the cartels; targeting cartel leaders for extradition and seizing illicit assets; investigating the cartels’ U.S. crimes like gun and bulk cash smuggling; battling the cartels’ violent crimes and narco-trafficking in the U.S.; and prosecuting cartel members in federal court.

This statement additionally mentioned the Mérida Initiative, (referred to herein as "the Initiative"), which is funding equipment and training for Mexico to fight the cartels.  Some of the Initiative’s expenditures are listed at the excerpt below from Table 3, p. 25 of the "Merida Initiative: The United States Has Provided Counternarcotics and Anticrime Support but Needs Better Performance Measures":

(To Enlarge Click On The Excerpt)


Continue Reading Fighting Mexico’s Drug Cartels By Funding A Financial Intelligence Unit