Launched in February, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)-led task force seized $2,385,539 and made 111 arrests for violations of federal and state laws which make it a crime to smuggle currency in, around or out of the U.S., transmit money without a license, launder money, and travel domestically or internationally in aid of racketeering enterprises.
In addition to the cash seizures, the Columbus BCSTF also seized 17 firearms, 6,053 grams of cocaine, 1,793 grams of heroin, 197 pounds of marijuana and 25 grams of crack cocaine. The majority of the seizures have occurred in the greater Columbus, Ohio, area. Once money is seized, in addition to becoming evidence of a crime, it is ultimately forfeited and dispersed to federal, state and local law enforcement to support efforts to combat transnational crime.
Transnational criminal groups use a network of sophisticated smuggling operations and tactics to move illicit proceeds in, around and out of the U.S. The funds are often derived from a number of criminal activities, including trafficking of narcotics, weapons, and women and children as sex slaves.
Bulk cash smugglers use all transportation means available, including passenger vehicles, private and commercial airplanes, trains, boats and commercial trucks. Targeting criminal assets is one of the federal government's most effective tools in combatting transnational crime.
"The number one way to target and dismantle a criminal group is to hit them where it hurts the most – in their pocketbooks," said William Hayes, acting special agent in charge for HSI Detroit, which covers Michigan and Ohio. "Money is overwhelmingly the primary motive for the criminal activity we investigate. When we eliminate a criminal group's profits, it significantly inhibits their ability to commit crimes in our communities."
Bulk cash smuggling related crimes are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and seizure of all funds associated.
The Columbus BCSTF is staffed by HSI special agents, officers with ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations, and officers with the Columbus Police Department, the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, the Hilliard Police Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The task force is also supported by the Central Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force.
Following the successful efforts of the task force, the Columbus BCSTF has become a national model for implementation in other cities.
Businesses that suspect illegal activity or want more information about bulk cash smuggling crimes should contact HSI Columbus at 614-469-5705, extension 2108.
HSI's National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC) is a key partner for the Columbus BCSTF. The BCSC assists with day-to-day operations and intelligence gathering and analysis.
As part of the effort to combat bulk cash smuggling, ICE established the BCSC in 2009. Since its inception, the center has initiated 656 criminal investigations, which have been linked to more than 270 criminal arrests and the seizure of over $187 million. The BCSC is an operational, intelligence driven investigative unit with the mission to challenge bulk cash smuggling from both national and international perspectives. The BCSC is focused on the disruption of facilitation pipelines used to move currency derived from illicit activity including drugs, weapons, human trafficking, foreign political corruption and contraband.