Crime School: Money Laundering

Fall 2004 CSANews Issue 52  |  Posted date : May 15, 2007.Back to list

In "Crime School: Money Laundering," author Chris Mathers has produced a fascinating, sometimes humorous book that reads like an informative Damon Runyon romp.

The difference is that in Mathers' 20-year career as an RCMP undercover money launderer, his associates were "bad guys" involved in everything from drugs to terrorism. Any slip-up had the potential for Chris to "wake up dead," as he so irreverently puts it. The organized crime mob doesn't bother with "snotty lawyers' letters."

The subtitle is "True Crime Meets the World of Business and Finance." Sounds pedantic. As a matter of fact, the author has one voluminous government report, currently holding up a corner of his basement couch.

Chris, however, describes it very succinctly. "Without a crime there is no money laundering. So money-laundering investigations always start off by determining the crime behind the money." The bad guy has to conceal the fruits of his crime.

It is therefore up to the undercover cops to follow the money trail. A particularly significant observation in these jittery post-9/11 days is that security officials agree that the best way to go after terrorist groups is through money-laundering investigations.

Meanwhile, the mobsters and terrorists continue to develop their "illegal frameworks" and work the system to access their dirty profits. They use phoney stock scams, real estate, art theft and electronic and online banking. It's easy to wire transfers to "friendly" banks in such places as Bangladesh or the Philippines. There's a helpful list of 25 of the "most corrupt" countries.

Mathers writes in the blunt vernacular of both cop and bad guy to describe the eccentricities of the world of organized crime. Surprisingly, the majority of bad guys do not carry guns. Guns are heavy and the ordinary crook doesn't have a "rig" (gun holster); he risks sticking the gun in his waistband. He can end up looking like a dork when the gun slips down and falls on the floor or, worse, he could shoot himself in the butt.

Mathers very colourfully describes his "condom theory of correspondent banking." This really involves the courier "swallowing" narcotics wrapped in condoms or plastic wrap. This method is not without risk. Mathers reports a case in which a courier arrived in Ottawa D.O.A. During post-mortem, officials found 105 condoms of heroin (a few of which had ruptured).

You may think that as a law-abiding citizen, you have no contact with organized crime. Chris provides a marvellous four pages describing the ways in which you can be ripped off in one hypothetical day. It will make you at least a little wary, if not paranoid.

Not at all hypothetical is the very specific case of Montreal pizza. Evidently, in the early 1970s, the Italian mob made the mom-and-pop pizza parlours, "an offer they couldn't refuse." Specifically, they were required to buy four times as much pepperoni and mozzarella as they needed. The owners pragmatically used the stuff and consequently, Montrealers love their pizza with loads of pepperoni, buried in mounds of cheese.

In Mathers' examination of the history of money laundering, we learn that the term itself was coined in the 1930s by the U.S. Treasury agents who were trying to nail Al Capone. In those days, commercial laundries were very common in Chicago, so Al and his gang bought hundreds of them to launder their prohibition liquor profits. From there, Chris describes how both the business and the investigations evolved through the South Florida cocaine craze of the 1970s to the sophisticated techniques used today.

During his undercover years, Mathers' clients included drug lords, snakeheads (people smugglers), biker gangs and, most dangerous of all –"The Russians!" Many of them were rogue KGB agents who resorted to crooked capitalism after the fall of the Soviet regime. These guys play hard ball! One of his clients fell victim to "Moscow suicide." He had shot himself in the head. Twice!

In Mexico, it's "Plump o Plato" (lead or silver). Translated literally, this means that if you don't take bribes, they will shoot you. It's kind of unsettling when Mathers refers to Quebec as being "very much like Mexico – without the nice weather." He cites cases of Quebec judges for sale.

It's even more insulting to learn that no self-respecting drug dealer would ever take Canadian money. As an undercover money launderer, Chris even had to do the foreign exchange transactions for his clients.

Canadian passports are another matter. Mathers reports that these documents are in demand as part of the kit for the typical terrorist. Coincidentally, it was recently reported on CNN that three of the six most-wanted terrorists do carry valid Canadian passports.

Although Chris Mathers did work undercover internationally for Interpol, the FBI and the DEA during his career, he still considers his colleagues in the Mounties to be his extended family. He describes joining the Mounted Police at a time at which the RCMP decided to "get rid of the horses and hire a few guys that weren't so good looking."

Currently, Mathers is a security consultant and crime writer. In his Crime School, he has organized an entertaining "Money Laundering for Dummies" – making a complex subject understandable. It's scary, current and engrossing. A great read!