FBI Plans Wave of Money Mule Arrests

By Daniel Bethencourt

The FBI is preparing to apprehend dozens of money mules who appear to have ignored the bureau’s warnings to cease opening and using bank accounts to launder the proceeds of fraud, a senior law enforcement official said.

Federal prosecutors first announced in March that the FBI and U.S. Postal Service targeted as many as 600 money mules with warning letters, civil forfeiture, and even criminal prosecution as part of a nationwide crackdown on attempts to defraud elderly citizens out of their savings.

The larger sweep targeted 200 conspirators responsible for an alleged $750 million in losses, ACAMS reported at the time.

“What we see now in 2019 is 15 percent of the folks we went and interviewed are still doing mule activity,” James Barnacle, head of the FBI’s money laundering unit, said during a panel at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “This year we’re going to visit them with some bracelets and we’re going to take them to jail.”

The latest initiative began with a review of suspicious activity reports, or SARs, filed in the three months up to Oct. 1, 2018, that included the term “money mule,” Barnacle said.

An initial search yielded 6,000 suspected money mules, but the FBI culled those results down to suspects who had been flagged by at least five institutions. Those left on the list of suspects held several accounts and on average had moved $1.7 million in illicit funds, whether negligently or knowingly, according to Barnacle.

FBI agents proceeded to visit about 300 alleged mules and asked each up to 40 questions to determine whether they knew the transfers they conducted on behalf of others were illegal, or who the ultimate beneficiaries were.

Agents also sought to understand how those individuals became involved in the schemes they helped facilitate.

Federal prosecutors have previously shown reluctance in bringing cases against money mules because of their potentially unwitting roles in fraud and their potential status as victims of romance schemes, Barnacle told attendees of the conference in Las Vegas.

“We’re doing a new campaign this fall, where we’re working with most federal agencies, as are 36 countries,” Barnacle said in reference to money mules. “In October, we’re taking SAR filings over the last year and narrowing them down … we expect some significant arrest results.”

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Topics : Anti-money laundering
Source: U.S.: Department of Justice
Document Date: September 25, 2019