An asset search for stock share certificates begins with looking for red flags.  These red flags are listed at the July 2019 paper “FIU Tools and Practices for Investigating Laundering of The Proceeds of Corruption.”  As page 19 paragraph 29 of the paper says, you should look for:

[R]eceiv[ing] or purchas[ing] shares (or the option to purchase shares):

  • In a company in exchange for services; or
  • In a company where the purchase is financed by the vendor; or
  • In a company where the purchase price is below the net asset value of the company; or
  • In a company and receives a dividend from the company which is disproportional to the purchase price; or
  • Which give the right to sell shares at a price which is higher than either the current market value or the price at which the shares were purchased; or
  • And profit from a share transaction where the purchase and selling dates of shares are within a short time period.”

The July 2019 paper is about corrupt politicians who launder illicit assets. Bribe-taking politicians for instance, may hide bribe monies by transferring them through “several foreign jurisdictions.”  Crooked politicians or other launderers also use stock share certificates in their schemes to hide assets.  They first establish shell companies. Next, they issue the stock share certificates for the shell companies to themselves. The crooked politicians/launderers then title bank accounts; real estate; high-value automobiles; etc. in the name of the shell companies. To see how some individuals carry out this kind of scheme you can read my post “Bearer Shares & An Asset Search.”

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

Mobsters and fraudsters hiding assets seem to favor Formations House in London, an Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project webpage revealed. The webpage is called “#29LEAKS: Inside A London Company Mill.” Its first paragraph describes some of the customers thought to use Formations House:

What do a Swedish Hells Angels boss, an Iranian state oil company, the Italian mob, and a fake Gambian bank have in common? The answer: A company services firm called Formations House, hidden behind the doors of one of London’s most exclusive addresses.

Formations House is a Nominee Incorporation Service (“NIS”).  This means it sells shell companies and other business entities to its customers. Another NIS was the Mossack Fonseca law firm known across the globe because of the Panama Papers.  While the business community has a legitimate need for NIS & shell companies, mobsters & fraudsters can buy shell companies from a NIS. The mobsters & fraudsters use the shell companies for hiding assets. They open bank accounts titled in the name of the shell companies and launder money through the accounts. Or they use their shell companies to purchase real estate, fine art, diamonds, etc. This misuse of shell companies is so rampant, it reminds me of the catchphrase “nothing to see here move along.”

To remain anonymous, the mobsters & fraudsters can use false identities when they purchase a shell company from a NIS.  For greater anonymity, the mobsters or fraudsters sometimes buy the services of a nominee/a straw man who acts as the director, manager or shareholder of a shell company.  Then the straw man, (rather than the mobster or fraudster), is listed at government registries as the shell company’s director, manger or shareholder.  When mobsters or fraudsters use a straw man this way, it makes it even more difficult to detect the mobster’s or fraudster’s shell companies and bank accounts. “Of course there are laws that are suppose to prevent this,” the video below about Formations House basically explains.

Video: Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

Opioid Crisis

The N.Y. State Attorney General has pursued an asset search of the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma and business entities related to them. The N.Y. State Attorney General tried to do this through its lawsuit in Suffolk County N.Y. against the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma. At court filings in the Suffolk County case, the N.Y. State Attorney General essentially alleged the Sackler family hid assets through:

The N.Y. State Attorney General and others filed lawsuits against the Sackler family because the family owns Purdue Pharma which makes OxyContin. Many blame OxyContin for the U.S. opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid crisis led to nearly 217,000 deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2017.


To facilitate its asset search of the Sackler family & Purdue Pharma, the N.Y. State Attorney General used its Suffolk County lawsuit to issue subpoenas to bank witnesses in the U.S. including: J.P. Morgan Chase Bank N.A.; Morgan Stanely & Co. LLC; UBS Financial Services, Inc. & UBS Bank U.S.A; Bank of America N.A.; Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.; Citibank, N.A.; HSBC Bank USA, N.A. & HSBC Securities USA, Inc.; Wells Fargo; & Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

The New York State Attorney General subpoenaed the bank witnesses and others to try to collect financial evidence about alleged fraudulent transfers by the Sackler family. One of these subpoenas was issued to BR Holdings, Associates Inc. & it is available here. The N.Y. State Attorney General also pursued its asset search by using the Suffolk County lawsuit to issue letters rogatory to offshore witnesses. One of these letters rogatory is geared toward eliciting evidence from Banela Corporation in the British Virgin Islands. Banela Corporation allegedly owns all the Class A shares of Purdue Pharma, Inc. As letters rogatory can be the primary tools for gathering evidence offshore, the N.Y. State Attorney General may especially need them. This is true since the Sackler family reportedly transferred assets valued at $1 billion offshore.


On September 15 & 16, 2019 in White Plains N.Y., Purdue Pharma & 23 affiliated debtors filed for a chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Drain who presides over the case, issued an injunction on October 11, 2019 suspending lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.  The October 11th injunction puts a freeze on the above-mentioned subpoenas and letters rogatory, (& the claims against the Sackler family and Purudue Pharma at the Suffolk County N.Y. lawsuit). Furthermore, the first federal civil lawsuit about OxyContin & the opioid crisis is set down for trial tomorrow in Cleveland Ohio. As a consequence of Bankruptcy Judge Drain’s October 11th injunction, the Ohio trial will not include any claims against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

Although I have many asset search tips for you, three stand out if you are trying to detect a large amount of hidden money or other high value assets.  My asset search tips are that you recognize: competing claimants; compartmentalization and laundering links.


My first asset search tip is that you see if there are claimants searching for the same money you are (i.e. competing claimants). Competing claimants can be a domestic or foreign tax authority; prosecutors seeking asset forfeiture; judgment creditors; court-appointed receivers; etc. Competing claimants may possess a priority claim over the hidden money. Competing claimants may have a greater legal right than you, to recover the hidden money. They sometimes hamper your ability to recover hidden money. If there are competing claimants in your case, you may have to change your asset recovery strategy.


My second asset search tip is you should look for compartmentalization because it can be used to hide money from you. One former intelligence officer I know compartmentalizes his cell phone calls as a countermeasure to anyone tracking the calls.  The former intelligence officer dedicates one cell phone for incoming calls and dedicates another for outgoing calls. My post “Compartmentalization & An Asset Search” gives another example of compartmentalization. It was about a divorcing husband who hid money via a “back-to-back-loan” (i.e. a loan in which the lender and the borrower are the same).

The husband alleged he was broke as he had defaulted on an arm’s length loan from an offshore bank. The loan however was “back-to-back” as the husband was both the lender and borrower of the loan. Meanwhile, no one knew this as the husband compartmentalized his money transfers related to the back-to-back loan. The husband compartmentalized by transferring his money through multiple jurisdictions such as Germany and Switzerland; and by using two different offshore banks.


A person may hide large amounts of money by moving the money through laundering links part of a money laundering circuit. Therefore, my third asset search tip is that you should learn to spot laundering links. Laundering links can be people; bank accounts; shell companies; existing businesses; trusts; foundations; charities; etc. You might possibly sniff out a laundering link by employing private investigators &/or forensic accountants; using legal tools like letters rogatory &/or subpoenas; etc. Below is a chart which shows how used car dealerships; exchange houses; and Lebanese banks were used as laundering links in a money laundering circuit which washed money for Hizballah, drug dealers and others.


Money Laundering Link Chart Courtesy of U.S. Treasury.

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

Today’s post is about Mr. Alex Nain Saab Moran (“Saab”) and Mr. Alvaro Pulido Vargas (“Pulido”) who could have hidden money at offshore banks; multiple jurisdictions; and in a nominee bank account (i.e. a bank account titled in the name of an intermediary).  I listed these three methods for hiding assets at “Red Flags For An Asset Search.”  On July 25th Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido were indicted in Florida for suspected money laundering & an alleged bribery scheme. The alleged scheme is believed to have involved Mr. Saab’s and Mr. Pulido’s bogus invoices which they submitted to the Venezuelan government.


Their July 25th indictment basically alleges Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido hid the money the Venezuelan government paid them because of the alleged bogus invoices.  These payments to Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido could have been for as much as $350 million U.S. dollars. Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido are thought to have laundered the payments by transferring the payments from banks in Venezuela to offshore banks in multiple jurisdictions. Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido may have also hidden money by using a nominee bank account titled in the name of a co-conspirator.  Based on the foregoing, money laundering indicators in this case might possibly have been the use of: offshore bank accounts; multiple jurisdictions; and a nominee bank account.


In 2011 the Venezuelan government awarded Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido a contract to construct low-income housing in Venezuela.  Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido then shipped construction materials to Venezuela to build the housing. Mr. Saab’s and Mr. Pulido’s July 25th indictment claims they submitted bogus invoices to the Venezuelan government for these construction materials.  The indictment alleges Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido invoiced the Venezuelan government for multiple shipments of construction materials when they sent only one.  Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido supposedly bribed Venezuelan government officials who photographed one shipment of construction materials in different locations to make the one appear to be multiple shipments.  Bribe-taking officials allegedly made sure the Venezuelan government paid Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido’s bogus invoices. The July 25th indictment also says Mr. Saab’s and Mr Pulido’s alleged bribe payments violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.


Finally, Mr. Saab’s and Mr. Pulido’s indictment was not the only thing that happened to them on July 25th. On July 25th the U.S. Treasury Department accused Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido of stealing money from a food program for the poor in Venezuela.  Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido supposedly hid these illicit proceeds by employing shell companies. Consequently, the U.S Treasury Department put Mr. Saab and Mr. Pulido on one of its sanction lists.

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

As part of your asset searches, you or your lawyer may hire private investigators. These private investigators sometimes interview witnesses to find hidden assets. However, ethical rules apply to your lawyer when he/she employs private investigators for witness interviews. The applicable ethical rules can vary, depending on the state or jurisdiction a lawyer practices law in.


Interviewing witnesses or gathering informants’ tips can be critical to the success of asset searches. The witnesses or tipsters can be an ex-husband or ex-wife; a paramour; disgruntled business partner; bookkeeper; etc. Meanwhile, ethical rules prohibit lawyers from using trickery while interviewing these witnesses and collecting their tips.  Therefore, when lawyers hire private investigators, the private investigators  should not make misrepresentations to witnesses or trick the witnesses at interviews. Otherwise, the lawyers who hired the investigators could violate ethical rules.


The following hypothetical featuring a Michigan lawyer, shows how ethical rules can be violated. The Michigan lawyer represents a divorcing wife in her Michigan divorce.  The divorcing wife tells the Michigan lawyer that her ultra-high-net worth husband is hiding marital assets. Therefore, the Michigan lawyer hires private investigators to perform asset searches of the husband.  Since the husband has a paramour, the Michigan lawyer tells one of the private investigators to befriend the paramour. The private investigator is to use the bogus friendship to interview the paramour about the husband’s assets. The Michigan lawyer also tells the private investigator to use the bogus friendship to conceal the fact that the private investigator works for the Michigan lawyer.

Meanwhile, a review of The Michigan Rules Of Professional Conduct reveals that the Michigan lawyer violated these five ethics rules:

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams


Asset searches at banks raise the question: how do you search for bank accounts you are unaware of? One wife found a box in the basement. Her divorcing husband forgot to take it when he moved out.  This box had an offshore bank’s brochure and the husband’s application to open his secret account there. Clues that can help you detect bank accounts usually come from: witness interviews or informant’s tips; forensic examinations of a cell phone, personal computer, or gps system; phone bills; hotel bills; credit card statements; frequent flyer miles statements; passports; court files from past lawsuits; physical surveillance; & trash pulls.


Proper ways for conducting asset searches at banks include employing:

In general, it is illegal to elicit bank account information by:

If you illegally gather bank account information you could violate privacy or other laws listed at  “Pretexting During An Asset Search.” Furthermore, you might be held criminally or civilly liable if your private investigator violates laws while conducting asset searches on your behalf. Perhaps most important to know, is that some individuals offering asset searches will sell you snake oil. For example, former private investigator Elaine White and her husband ex-cop Cullen Johnson offered to perform asset searches at banks. These two however, sold their clients fabricated bank account information. They are mentioned at the “Investigators Gone Bad” video:

Video: courtesy of Offshore Alert

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

This 38th post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series shows you how your divorcing spouse can open secret offshore bank accounts.  The post also talks about presenting evidence in court about the offshore bank accounts.


Your divorcing spouse can open a secret offshore bank account by:

  1. establishing a shell company;
  2. hiring a straw person to act as the shell company’s nominee director;
  3. telling the nominee director to open an offshore bank account titled in the name of the shell company.
  4. & by finally transferring money into the offshore account.

By following these steps your divorcing spouse could secretly own offshore bank accounts. Your divorcing spouse would however, have to control the nominee directors of the shell companies.  Some methods for controlling nominee directors are discussed by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ webpage “How the nominee trick works.” Meanwhile, “The Anonymous Panama Corporation” webpage seems to sell shell companies via the Internet. Besides shell companies, this webpage apparently offers nominee directors.


If your divorcing spouse has secret offshore bank accounts, you will need to collect evidence about the offshore bank accounts. You will need the following documents for each of your divorcing spouse’s offshore bank accounts: monthly bank account statements; signature cards; account opening documents; etc.  You must also authenticate these documents and present them to the Court. The Court can then consider these offshore accounts when it distributes marital assets to you; awards you alimony &/or child support.

The best way to collect offshore bank account information will usually be through legal assistance requests/letters rogatory.  The Court presiding over your divorce can issue letters rogatory. Your letters rogatory would ask the foreign courts with legal authority over the offshore banks, to help you collect evidence.  Pursuant to your letters rogatory, foreign courts may direct the offshore banks to supply you with documents about your divorcing spouse’s offshore bank accounts.

The letter rogatory reproduced below was issued by the Family Court in San Isidro, Argentina.  The wife in that family court case sought alimony.  The wife apparently suspected her husband had offshore accounts at Merrill Lynch/Bank of America in New York City at Avenue of the Americas & 42nd Street:



Your divorcing spouse may be hiding assets at an offshore trust. Your divorcing spouse may secretly transfer marital assets to the offshore trust.  The divorcing spouse could also make new purchases through the offshore trust. The trust could purchase: real property; jewelry; valuable automobiles; and almost anything else. This means your divorcing spouse could hide assets by titling assets in the name of an offshore trust.

Todd Kozel was accused of this kind of scheme. Mr. Kozel allegedly hid assets at a sham Isle of Jersey trust, as set forth by “ Ways To Hide Money & Commit Crimes.” Although real estate mogul Michael R. Mastro’s case didn’t involve divorce, Mr. Mastro allegedly used three trusts to hide assets.  This  was mentioned at “Mr. Mastro’s Bankruptcy Estate & His Self-Settled Trusts.” If your divorcing spouse is using an offshore trust to hide marital assets from you, you may be able to gather documents that can help you identify: the custodial bank for the trust; the trust’s income beneficiaries; the trustees; etc.


Below is a list of documents/ a production request related to a divorcing spouse who was a U.S. taxpayer hiding marital assets at an offshore trust.  The list has been sanitized/changed for privacy reasons. If you are in a pending divorce, you may be able to use the list during the pretrial discovery phase. You could use the list for your request that your divorcing spouse supply you with documents, (i.e. your production request).  You might use the list even if you are not in a pending  divorce. This is true because the list can focus your attention on documents that could reveal your divorcing spouse has hidden assets at an offshore trust.

First Image: Gustavo Frazao/

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams

In USA v Dan Horsky prosecutors claimed Mr. Horsky had hidden money in Zurich, Switzerland at Credit Suisse and at other offshore banks. The gravamen of the allegations at Mr. Horsky’s criminal complaint was that Mr. Horsky concealed $200 million from the IRS in a tax fraud scheme. Two years ago Mr. Horsky was sentenced to seven months of prison for his scheme. Mr. Horsky also paid a $100 million fine for failing to report his offshore bank accounts/failing to file FBAR 114 Forms with the U.S. Government. Meanwhile, Mr. Horsky’s scheme seems to have been replete with money laundering indicators. These money laundering indicators were Mr. Horsky’s suspected use of:

  1. multiple jurisdictions;
  2. offshore bank accounts;
  3. shell companies;
  4. nominees (intermediaries/strawpersons);
  5. valuable art;
  6. & an offshore credit card.

By transferring money through multiple jurisdictions; offshore bank accounts; etc., one can disguise the beneficial ownership of money. An individual or corporation might use just one of these elements or a combination of them to secretly transfer money.  The elements can be used as laundering links to wash hidden money in a money laundering circuit.  Mr. Horsky is thought to have hidden money by transferring it through multiple jurisdictions at banks in the United States and Zurich, Switzerland. Mr. Horsky is believed to have titled his offshore bank accounts in the names of offshore shell companies he had established.

At his shell companies, Mr. Horsky allegedly used a nominee director who lived in Zurich. Mr. Horsky reportedly hid valuable stock certificates he owned in an online auction company, by physically depositing them into a Swiss stock custody account.  In addition, Mr. Horsky purchased fine art from auction houses across the globe and apparently paid for the art with monies from his offshore bank account(s). Mr. Horsky was also accused of having an offshore credit card which he only used in Europe. At the “Position Of The United States With Respect To Sentencing,” you can read more about how Mr. Horsky supposedly hid his money.

Copyright 2019 Fred L. Abrams