In your experience, how does the clout of the Mafia, the traditional LCN,
compare to drug trafficking organizations that you've run into here in Miami
and the Caribbean?
Gregorie is an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern
District of Florida. Among the many drug cases he has prosecuted, the more
famous have been those against Colombia's Medellin cartel and against Gen.
Manuel Noriega, the former leader of Panama. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted in 2000.
Well, the amounts of money we're talking are so huge that they make the
localized Mafia problem look minuscule. Certainly extortion, loan-sharking,
and gambling [were very profitable] and the Mafia [needed] to launder those
profits. But I don't think that anywhere in the Mafia's greatest dreams did
their profits come anywhere near what we had in the drug trade in the 1980s and
How would you illustrate [the difference]?
We have no real accounting of what's there. But [in terms of drug
trafficking] we're definitely talking about billions. The Mafia [money] ...
was kept within a small group, and therefore not anywhere near the size of the
drug trafficking [profits].
How would you describe the size, extent, parameters, of the international
The drug trafficking business has grown into one of the world's largest
enterprises--I would say equal with the oil industry or some of the major
corporations in the world.
Are you talking about cash?
We are talking about billions of dollars every year in liquid cash.
Would you say they [are] controlling some economies?
They do control economies. I would say the narcotics industry in Colombia is
more cash ready than [its] government, or almost any other South American
And here in Florida?
Here in Florida all you need to do is drive down [Brickel] Avenue and look from
one side of the street to the other, and you'll see bank after bank after bank.
Take a look up--you don't see any smokestacks. There is no industry here to
speak of. What we have here is hundreds of international banking organizations
[working with] money which is really drug capital and narcotics proceeds.
You have been involved in drug prosecutions over the past 20 years. [How
has the industry changed?]
It got more sophisticated. ...The money laundering end of the narcotics
business has been infused by the Russian Mafia, Israeli organized crime
figures, [and] sophisticated banking organizations. Essentially the narcotics
traffickers have [evolved] from dragging suitcases full of money into banks, to
being able to [launder] money through sophisticated accounts, and hide it in
real estate purchases, stock transactions, [and] jewelry sales that are very
hard to trace.
...I remember the story about a bank guard who was standing on the corner, and
he watches a man roll up and try to pull several suitcases out of a cab. One
of the suitcases bursts open and money falls out. Another car pulls up, the
guy is trying to put the money back into the suitcase, and two armed men come
out and steal the suitcases. And the guard runs over to the man and says, "I'm
going to call the police, I'll get the police here right away." And the man
says, "No, no, don't call the police," gets back in the car and drives away.
Well, that was the basis of money laundering in those days. They would take
the cash proceeds from all these narcotics sales, and they would bring it to
the bank. Bank employees would sit in the cellar counting bill after bill
after bill and put it into someone's bank account, which then would get wire
transferred to Colombia.
They've [become] far more sophisticated than that now. The bank employees no
longer have to sit in the basement counting the bills. They now have very
sophisticated counting machines, which will pull out the counterfeit money and
will count the money at great speed. [The drug traffickers are] able to take it
to numerous different accounts, and they [are] able to [launder] the money in a
fashion which makes it appear to be legitimate business.
So is the industry inextricably entwined in a legitimate economy?
I don't know...It is certainly entwined with our economy in the sense that it
has every intention to appear legitimate. If you dig into some of these
companies or businesses, you will see they have no basis for the kinds of money
...When you started out, [the drug traffickers] were literally taking
suitcases of cash out of the airport. That's changed over time.
Oh, yes. What's happened is that the money launderers have been able to
develop businesses which are cash business, [for example] restaurants...Jewelry
has become a great way to launder money. You can buy it here in the U.S., take
it down to South America, resell it, and the money is laundered. You can
purchase real estate in the United States for an ungodly sum, then...sell it
back to someone in South America, and the money is laundered.
If you go and look at some of these businesses [throughout Miami], nobody goes
in them, nobody goes out of them...We had a baby store that literally had no
parking in front of it. Yet when we looked at the receipts, they were
recording several million dollars a month going into their accounts. Well, we
knew it wasn't from the sale of baby clothes. Nobody could even park there to
When you came down here 18 years ago you felt overwhelmed. The whole place
was awash with cocaine money and traffickers?
It was the Wild West. Now [law enforcement] has become a little more
sophisticated, but [we are] still very much [at] the outer edge of narcotics
dealing and money laundering.
I hate to say this, Dick, but it doesn't sound like you're winning.
Well, I can't tell you that rape, robbery or mayhem have stopped in the world
either. Crime will continue, no matter how strong our efforts are. We have
identified the problem, and we certainly have an idea of what to do about it.
I'm not sure that government and law enforcement is doing all it can. I would
say that sometimes we're more interested in the body count than we are
interested in getting to the core of the problem. And sometimes the money
laundering is so intertwined with legitimate business that the government
doesn't know whether it should really take all the steps it should to stop the
So law enforcement loses out to business?
Law enforcement has always taken second place to intelligence operations [and]
business concerns. If you are arresting a drug dealer or a mugger on the
street, everyone is happy. If you are taking steps to stop the flow of
proceeds from crime, and that's going to interfere with banks...or businesses'
[ability] to continue their operations in a free-flowing manner, then you're
going to run into difficulty.
In 1989 the DEA seized so much money that it actually was self funding.
Yes, and this has become an interesting problem in law enforcement...The
agencies become so attuned to seizing money, they make that their objective
[and] forget that they are out there to try to stop the problem...
Any number of DEA people we have interviewed say that in their careers,
especially in the last 15 years, there has been a push to bust money more than
drugs because you can use the money.
I think it is an appropriate objective of law enforcement to be going after the
money. They keep growing more narcotics down in South America, and we have
decided that it is not appropriate for us to go and wipe out the cocaine
fields. So the only way to stop the problem is to take the profit out of
it...[The drug dealers] are in this business to make money. And if you make it
unprofitable, they will stop dealing in narcotics. The only way to do that is
to disturb this flow of funds.
Granted, but the reality is [that if] law enforcement agencies seize money
they get to use [it] themselves.
Yes, they're using the money for law enforcement purposes. The problem is that
it should not be the sole goal of law enforcement to seize enough money to keep
their operations going. Rather, it should be to seize the money in order to
stop the narcotics trade. And I think we've lost sight of that.
One DEA supervisor said to us that if you told us the money was going to go
to treatment or general education funds for the society at large, we wouldn't
be busting the money.
I don't think that's the case. I think that law enforcement has recognized
that seizing the money hurts the drug dealers far more than seizing their
cocaine. They can always go back to the fields and get more cocaine. If they
lose the money it hurts them because they've already gone through...the entire
manufacturing and distribution cycle, and now they're waiting for their
But why should the money go back to funding more law enforcement operations
that have nothing to do necessarily with drug trafficking?
If law enforcement operations [weren't funded] with the bad guy's drug
money, it would come from the taxpayers' pocket. And I think there's a lot to
be said for having the drug [dealers] pay for their own prosecution.
Let's talk about the drug kingpin law.
I testified in Congress that the drug kingpins are the ones who are
really profiting on a large scale from this industry...Most European and South
American countries will not extradite a defendant to the United States for
trial if that defendant is going to be put to death. So the statute actually
[We must] realize the world is getting much smaller. Drug dealers can now sit
in a foreign jurisdiction and direct drugs to be delivered to a specific street
address in the United States [within] a very short period of time. So if we're
going to attempt to prosecute those drug kingpins, we must be able to extradite
them. Foreign countries won't extradite them if we're going to sentence them
to death...and that is a major problem with the statute.
There is a more recent drug kingpin statute which involves companies and
industries [that are involved in] any [aspect] of [the] narcotics
Oh, and they are supposed to put them out of business in that sense? That
certainly is an admirable goal. If they get cooperation from the foreign
jurisdictions in doing that, it certainly will be a great assistance.
I think the problem is that these people don't hold money solely in the U.S.
If you can seize their money and property in the U.S. and put them out of
business, I think that's a great step in the right direction.
So the question has become, to what extent [does] drug money becomes
intermingled with legitimate money overseas? As a result you have many foreign
companies that have protested or lobbied, particularly Mexican companies,
against this law.
Well, I think you've got to make clear to them, if you're in the drug business
for a penny, you're in it for a pound. And if you're going to do business with
drug dealers, then you're risking your entire business.
So the word ought to be out, and it ought to be made clear to any business,
that [if] you do business with drug dealers, you take the chance that you are
knowingly taking in drug money, [and] you are risking your entire business.
Some of these companies would say, "We don't know that we're doing business
with a drug dealer." For instance this one transportation company in Mexico
says, "We can't look in every container. So if that's going to taint us as
drug dealers, we'll go out of business unfairly, and our trade with the U.S.
will be over."
Well, as I said to you earlier, we have got to take drastic steps in order stop
this problem. And if that includes telling companies that they must go to
every length possible to ensure that they are not assisting the drug
traffickers either by laundering their money or transporting their dope, then
we have to do that.
Some of these companies may say, "Well, it's a very difficult task." Well,
find a way to do it, because you are part of the problem and...you are going to
have to learn to deal with that problem and assist us.
I'm sure the statute says, "knowingly and willingly," so if it is by accident,
beyond your knowledge, you can't be guilty of the offense. No one gets
convicted for doing something which they are totally unaware of and not
Not intentionally. I will not say that our system is perfect. But I don't
know of any drug dealers that are in jail, at least who have come through my
watch, that were not dealing in narcotics.
I interviewed the CIA station chief in Panama in 1989, and he said two
interesting things. One, there was no reason to invade Panama if what we
wanted to do was grab Manuel Noriega. And two, Manuel Noriega wasn't really a
drug trafficker. He was involved but he was by no means a drug trafficker.
[If] you listen to that CIA chief, you realize that the intelligence community
doesn't understand the criminal law. If you are a business boss sitting in
your office directing your employees to traffic in drugs, you can say, "I'm not
a drug trafficker. The guy who worked for me was dealing in the drugs, but I
wasn't dealing in drugs." You can have other people do your bidding. But what
the CIA chief doesn't understand is that [in] Manuel Noreiga's protection of
the drug kingpins from Colombia...he was a major drug conspirator.
...Manuel Noriega was a major cog in drug laundering coming from Colombia. He
assisted them by laundering money through his banks [using] his bank secrecy
laws, and he assisted them by allowing them to transport the drugs through
Panama to come to the United States. He was a major player in the narcotics
Did we have to invade to get him?
Well, we had several choices. He used to pass through U.S. territory, [on]
U.S. military bases. They could have picked him up, [and] brought him back to
the U.S. Maybe they didn't need to send the troops in. I'm not sure that was
politically acceptable. Would the international community have been happier if
we had grabbed him on U.S. territory, put him in handcuffs and brought him back
to the U.S.? ...I don't believe it would have been satisfactory to the
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