Having been part of a group of aggressive guys when I was younger, I know how one guy with poor impulse control can lead the whole group down a bad road. If that bad road contains a lot of money and no negative experiences to bound behavior within the amygdala, it can be a long road indeed.
For an undercover crew designed to operate in the shadows, the Tri-County Task Force could be a big-spending, high-rolling force…
Bal Harbour’s Sea View Hotel emerged as a de facto base for task force members, who booked rooms at the elegant 1940s-era resort at least 75 times, holding meetings and often coverging around the pool.
For a group trained to keep a low profile while searching for financial crime, the officers broke all their own rules.
The Tri-County Task Force turned a money-laundering investigation into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, spending lavishly on travel and dining while picking up suitcases stuffed with drug cash from as far away as Los Angeles and San Juan.
The whole story is a hot mess. It either points to a total lack of professionalism among the officers (and lack of normal legal oversight mechanisms that every department will have), or a Federal Homeland Security intel operation quietly attached itself to the taskforce, and used them to do the illegal things that Federal intel operators use others for, to keep themselves in the shadows.
That this group was sending money internationally, with ostensibly no way to see what was happening on the other side, would make you wonder if there were eyes where the money landed, watching what was happening there while pulling the strings over here.
Beyond the audit findings, Bal Harbour officials say they are perplexed because they have not been able to find an agreement with the bank to host the undercover sting, even though such pacts are standard, according to federal agents who have supervised stings.
If you fall under coverage, one of the many things they will do at the outset is get into your bank/s. It will either be one of the federal surveillance agents who has established a civilian identity as a trained bank employee, who will apply for a job at your bank, or it will be a bank employee they find a pressure point on or otherwise turn. This is not done officially, nor are any official papers signed. It is just done. That the same MO was used here might be indicative that this was an Intelligence Division operation, and not an Investigative Division.
To facilitate the operation, the task force enlisted the help of Ivan Morales, the 56-year-old branch manager and career banker who became an inside adviser, confidant, even a golf partner to task force members.
For years, he hobnobbed with the officers at golf outings and charity events while helping them launder at least $71.5 million in what became a troubled sting operation that ultimately did not lead to any arrests by the officers.
Details of the relationship, drawn from bank records, police reports and interviews, provide a look into how the officers from two small police agencies carried out what became the largest state money-laundering operation in a generation…
Just before an audit of the task force accounts late last year, Morales left his job and moved to Central Florida after spending eight years at the regional bank. He did not respond to repeated interview requests by the Herald.
Bal Harbour police sent a letter to SunTrust requesting information about the role Morales took with the task force, but the bank said it would not comply without a subpoena, said Mark Overton, Bal Harbour police chief. Hugh Suhr, a SunTrust spokesman, declined to comment…
The inquiry to the FDLE has placed the focus on the banker, who spent years vouching for the task force, allowing the police to set up accounts under shell company names to protect their cover.
“They couldn’t have done a fraction of what they were able to do without him,” said Overton, who was hired after the task force disbanded in 2012…
While they were wiring money offshore, Morales struck close ties to the task force, joining them for lunches in Surfside, golf outings at Miami-Dade police chief events and police holiday parties at the Balmoral condominiums, said police officers…
“He would be at every police function — golfing, dinners,” said Brian Mulheren, director of the Bal Harbour Citizens’ Coalition and a former New York police detective. “He was one of the guys.”
Morales was also helping the officers with other transactions that would catch the attention of auditors now trying to track the money through the bank.
While officers were running the operation, they were routinely withdrawing cash from the bank — thousands at a time — with no records to show where the money was spent, the Herald found. In more than two dozen instances, the commanders took out $547,000 from SunTrust.
Auditors have now discovered in bank records that many of the withdrawals by the officers were authorized by Morales, including some of the largest, according to a confidential source. Auditors have found $800,000 in additional withdrawals by the police with no supporting records.
Overton said he requested information from SunTrust to find out if required currency reports were filed by the bank for any cash transactions exceeding $10,000, to help auditors trace the money, but he is still waiting.
Either he was just being cultured as an asset by these cops, or he was a federal LE intel asset/officer and these cops were led into all of this by some super-secret fed unit who hooked them up with him, as the feds pulled all the strings to bring this all together. It wouldn’t be surprising if the feds owned, or placed one of their own as, a SunTrust Bank Manager, given SunTrust’s reputed history with drug money laundering in the 80’s and 90’s, and the fact four 9/11 hijackers had accounts there.
That at the end of the operation the manager just quit his job, moved away, and dropped off the radar might indicate he had a level of financial comfort consistent with a secondary revenue stream. I don’t see another bank hiring him. It would not surprise me to find he is pulling vehicular surveillance duty, or is performing technical monitoring on a target near his new residence as he waits for the heat to die down.
Either way, he is a case study in how easily your most private financial data is sucked up by the government sans warrant or probable cause these days. If you had an account at that bank, and one of these cops asked him to cut them a copy of all your bank records, they would have had the records in minutes, no subpoena or court order needed. You wouldn’t even need to be under investigation – you could be the cop’s neighbor, and he could just be curious. If the Bank Manager skirted the $10,000 reporting requirement, passing records is nothing. I’ll guarantee you, Federal Intel, probably Homeland Security, has a guy like this at every major bank’s central records center (as well as at Ashley Madison, Tinder, Gambling sites, email sites, web hosts, or anything private or embarrassing). It wouldn’t surprise me if the feds got thumb drives with all the new data burned off every week to add to the database. There is no privacy today. That is the difference between the old Investigative Division investigations we enjoyed, and the newer Intelligence Division investigations Federal LE is moving toward.
Something happened after 9/11. It is my assumption it is still building up, and when it comes to light, it may be the most tenuous moment for freedom, and our Constitutional liberties. Somebody will have a very powerful new toy they won’t want to surrender, and a populace to use it on who will be trying to make them put it down.
Of greatest interest is that the article quotes other law enforcement agencies as pissed that all of this went down. That is not the first I have heard of that type of friction. Supposedly the Texas Rangers have a particular distrust for DHS, based on things they are seeing down in Texas. Where law-breaking LE Intelligence meets normal LE Investigative there will often be a chilly relationship. Neither will trust the other, since each has fundamentally different priorities.
There may be a lot of local law enforcement out there right now, gritting their teeth at orders from shadowy federal entities with questionable agendas, stingy information sharing, poor law-abiding skills, and a frustratingly unquestionable authority. As the locals watch their own law enforcement responsibilities fall by the wayside for seemingly no reasons at all, they can’t seem to figure what these covert groups are even doing, or when they may wrap up their illegal assignments.
It is an interesting time, made even more interesting by the fact we are approaching a time of unimaginable chaos, during which things like this will tend to get aired out.