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Robert Trigaux

Miami vice: Feds nail Ocean Bank for money laundering after 10 years slapping bank's wrist



miami-vice-poster.jpgWake up and good morning. I guess there's a reason they made the 1980s' era Miami Vice TV show in Miami. When it comes to money laundering, especially for illegal drug activity, it looks like not much has really changed in South Florida. This time, Miami-based Ocean Bank was just nabbed and fined $11 million by the federal government in a deferred prosecution agreement. Why? To resolve charges that it willfully failed to establish an anti-money laundering program from 2001 through June 2008.


Let me repeat that. The feds who track money laundering have been fiddling with Ocean Bank's money laundering activities since 2001. Crockett and Tubbs (in poster) of Miami Vice: Where are you when we need you?

That's a decade ago, so drug traffickers have enjoyed the majority of those years laundering their illegal narcotics proceeds through this bank. The Miami Herald story says this week's agreement follows "a lengthy, multi-agency investigation dubbed Operation Dirty Dinero that delved into Miami-based Ocean Bank’s handling of several of its customers’ accounts, including transactions with Mexican 'casas de cambio,' or currency exchange houses."

As this South Florida Sun-Sentinel story reports, investigators said three Ocean Bank accounts probed had received transfers from Mexican currency houses controlled by the Bernal-Palacios drug trafficking organization. The group used their "casas de cambio" to shift their narcotics proceeds to bank accounts around the world, they said. And who is Bernal-Palacios? Here's what a DEA news release said back in 2006:


"Three Colombian nationals – Ricardo Mauricio Bernal Palacios, 39, Juan Manual Bernal Palacios, 44, and Camilo Andres Ortiz Echeverri, 36 – were named in a 49-count indictment returned by a grand jury and unsealed today in the Southern District of Florida, and were arrested on March 2 by law enforcement authorities in Bogotá, Colombia, pursuant to arrest warrants issued in the judicial district charging them with violations of federal narcotics and money laundering laws, the Justice Department announced today. Ricardo Mauricio Bernal Palacios was one of the most wanted money laundering fugitives in the world."


Here's the official release on Ocean Bank from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which includes this statement from Mark Trouville, DEA’s Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Field Division: "Ocean Bank has a responsibility to not turn a blind eye to the money laundering activities of drug traffickers. In this instance, Ocean Bank failed in its duty to the public and now faces justice."

Alas, the joke may be on the U.S. for acting so slowly. The feds cut a deal with Ocean Bank. Because the bank supposedly cooperated with the feds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to defer prosecution of the criminal charge in the information for 24 months. If Ocean Bank fully complies with its obligations under the Agreement, the United States Attorney’s Office agrees to dismiss the criminal information at the end of the 24 months.

Here's the punch line. Financially, Ocean Bank (even before the $11 million fine) is a basket case, ranked as a "zero star" by Bauer Financial which means it's already on life support. My best guess is Ocean Bank, which has $3.5 billion in assets, will be long gone (having failed or been sold to a stronger bank) long before the feds say they may dismiss their criminal charges against the bank by mid-2013.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times



[Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 3:43pm]


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