What is money laundering?

Financial crime scheme takes center stage in Netflix hit 'Ozark'

Money laundering is the act funneling of illicitly obtained money into legitimate transactions or cash businesses as a way to “wash” the money, or make it legal, and conceal its origins.

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Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines it as “a financial transaction scheme that aims to conceal the identity, source, and destination of illicitly-obtained money.”

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After illegally obtaining the money, the launderer will use it “through a complex scheme of transactions to obscure who initially received the money from the criminal enterprise,” before recouping the money “in an obscure and indirect way,” according to the definition.

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The scheme is a central focus of Jason Bateman’s hit Netflix show “Ozark,” which tells the story of how Bateman’s character, Marty Byrde, and his family move from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks in a potentially lifesaving bid to launder millions of dollars for a Mexican drug cartel.

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The Drug Enforcement Agency recently announced that cartels’ money laundering networks have been thwarted by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which was prompted more stringent airport and border security and the closure of nonessential businesses.

In an interview with FOX Business, Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York office, provided an example of how the current climate hinders drug traffickers’ trade-based money laundering efforts.

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“If I am a drug trafficker and I'm in Mexico and I need to get my money back to me –  my illicit funds, the proceeds that come from drugs – what will happen or what happens here in New York City is you have distribution groups here that will move the drugs on the streets to people that are using them,” he explained.

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The money those drug dealers make is then delivered to money laundering groups, in this case in New York City, Donovan said.

“Oftentimes, those money laundering groups will buy American goods throughout the city, throughout the tristate, and they'll ship those goods to places like China,” he continued. “And they do that because it's an easy way to wash the money. They'll buy the goods here, ship it to China, they'll recoup the money, and make profits on that money because [they're] American goods, and then they'll wire the money from China to Mexico pay the cartel off.”

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So the COVID-19-prompted shutdowns, in turn, stop the money from “moving,” Donovan said.

"With not being able to go and buy luxury items, different clothing or purses or different things that organizations will invest in, not being able to do that, you can't wash or clean the money.”

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