Los Angeles Fashion District Money Laundering Scheme Busted

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Nearly 1,000 law enforcement agents raided dozens of Los Angeles businesses and warehouses Wednesday and seized almost $100 million dollars — some of it packed in cardboard boxes labeled “1 million” — in a bust that federal officials called one of the largest money laundering investigations ever.

“The huge amounts of cash seized shocked even our agents,” said Virginia Kice, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which, along with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, executed search warrants and arrested nine people. Three other suspects are wanted by authorities.

“Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco dollar money laundering, with couriers bringing duffle bags full of cash to many of those businesses," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale said. In one of three criminal cases uncovered by federal agents during the 16-month investigation, some of the cash was allegedly laundered and sent to the notorious Sinaloa Cartel to pay for the ransom of a U.S. citizen who was being held hostage and was tortured in Mexico, officials said. In another case, agents handed a business owner bundles of cash that was splattered with what appeared to be blood — and which was accepted with no questions asked.

Officials said cash was dropped off at businesses in the garment district, which was then used to pay for products that would be exported to Mexico. Once those goods arrived they were sold to a distributor, who paid in pesos, which would then be turned over to drug traffickers like the Sinaloa Cartel.