Queen of the North: the forgotten story of how a woman more dangerous than Lucky Luciano, ran the first Mexican drug cartel for 50 years

By Christine Duhaime | January 7th, 2021

More dangerous than Lucky Luciano

Before she packed her bags for the last time and fled her home in Juárez, Mexico in 1973, with the federal police hot on her trail, Ignacia “La Nacha” Jasso had been one of the most powerful and feared gangsters in Mexico for decades, described by American officials as more dangerous than notorious American crime boss Lucky Luciano.

La Nacha ran 1st drug cartel

La Nacha created the first drug cartel and operated what the US government called the largest international drug operation in Mexico and she led it for fifty years, longer than any other drug cartel leader. She was famous for using violence to expand drug trafficking territory and eliminate rivals who stood in her way, once ordering the execution of eleven drug traffickers one night when they would not cede their drug trade to her. In Mexico, she established the first major drug supply and distribution routes to the US, which decades later were used by the Guadalajara, Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels which helped them scale their drug empires when she was gone. These underworld achievements made her a pioneer mobster in the annals of drug trafficking in both the US and Mexico.

But because of it, La Nacha dodged trouble most of her adult life. She started early in life trafficking drugs, and although it was not easy for a woman to lead an international drug trafficking organization in Mexico, she learned to align herself with corrupt Mexican law enforcement officials, especially the Mexican Policía Judicial Federal to avoid serious time in prison and thrive as a drug trafficker, eventually becoming the first Mexican drug trafficker to control drug operations at the Mexican-US border.

She also appears to have been the first Mexican drug kingpin wanted by the US government for extradition.

While La Nacha has been mostly forgotten and minimized in the history of drug kingpins, the Queen of the North paved the way for the emergence in Mexico of the powerful drug cartel phenomena.

La Nacha’s early life

La Nacha was born in the mid 1890s in Juárez, Mexico, a town that borders El Paso, Texas.

During prohibition the population exploded. In 1921, the population of Juárez was 19,451. By 1930, it more than doubled to 39,669. It became one of America’s favourite towns for vices of all sorts, receiving over 400,000 pleasure-seeking tourists a year.

Americans who crossed the border to Juárez came for the brothels, casinos, cabarets, opium and morphine dens and alcohol. It was the final destination for those looking to park 1920s morality at the US border.

Juárez was a town you went to because everything that was prohibited in Texas was permitted there.

Downtown Juárez, 1929 (Source: FilmImages YouTube Channel)

Street of the Devil

Juárez experienced a golden age and an economic boom during prohibition. As the cabarets, casinos, drug dens and brothels sprouted up along Calle Diablo – the Street of the Devil – organized crime was not far behind.

Tourists at a bar in Juárez, 1924 (Source: Ciudad Juarez décadas de 1920-1940 on YouTube)

The amount of cash left behind by American tourists in Juárez every year was in the tens of millions. La Nacha wanted a piece of it.

In those days, the DEA didn’t exist – the US Treasury Department had jurisdiction over alcohol and narcotics and it mostly focused on the illicit trade of alcohol that passed through the Mexican border.

Early drug mule

How La Nacha got started in the drug trade is anyone’s guess.

In her teens, she became a drug mule, walking heroin across the border into El Paso, Texas, for local Mexican drug sellers. In the 1920s, US customs and border officials estimated that 60% of illicit drugs brought into the US from Mexico were smuggled in by female drug mules because women were less likely to be searched. The money was good and La Nacha stayed in the business. She had a knack for evading law enforcement.

Border between Juarez and El Paso used by La Nacha to mule drugs, 1926

Gambling, brothels, drugs and money laundering

Mexico was gaining a reputation for domestic opium, morphine, heroin and marijuana by the mid-1920s. Poppies had been introduced to Mexico and grown in northern states by Chinese immigrants since the 1800s. It was sold in supervised drug dens, similar to what today could be loosely considered drug safe houses. They also used poppy resin to make morphine, and its derivative, heroin, which were sold at drug dens. In those days in Juárez, heroin was pure enough to be sniffed or smoked.

Typical low end opium den (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

In Juárez, drug dens were hidden in the back rooms of clubs, cafes and laundry stores, many of which were owned by Chinese immigrants. Often the cafes and clubs also fronted for underground brothels and casinos. Chinese laundry stores were also used to count and exchange cash, loan shark, pay wages and as fronts to launder money. It is believed that the term “laundering” of money may have derived from the use of Chinese laundrettes that fronted for illicit businesses to wash money in order to obfuscate the proceeds of drug dens and brothels.

The Tivoli was a well-known cafe for gambling in Juárez, circa 1920s (Source: University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting El Paso Public Library)

Drugs were also sold on the street and in homes in Juárez.

Teenager selling drugs wrapped in paper in Juárez, 1930s

In 1920, a number of the drug dens in Juárez were owned by a Chinese immigrant named Sam Hing (some researchers say Sam Ching). Hing sold more than opium, morphine and heroin – he also sold marijuana to Americans.

Caro and Fonseca families sold marijuana 100 years ago

Hing travelled to Sinaloa and other states looking for marijuana suppliers to sell him product and deliver it north to Juárez to meet the town’s growing demand. He entered into a deal with the families of what would become one of the world’s largest drug cartels sixty years later thanks to his unintended support – the Caro and Fonseca families. In the 1920s, Gil Caro, Manual Caro and Rafael Fonseca were small time marijuana growers. They increased production and sold marijuana to Hing.

Gil Caro and Manuel Caro are the ancestors of Rafael Caro Quintero; Rafael Fonseca is the grandfather of Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo. Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo were the founders and leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel, with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo.

Rafael Caro Quintero, 1980s (Source: EcuRed)

Meanwhile, La Nacha was expanding her drug trafficking activities in the State of Chihuahua and in the US, engaging drug suppliers and arranging shipments, as well as drug distributors in the US, who could expand her reach and move her drugs.

Marriage to King of Morphine

She married a well-known drug trafficker in Juárez named Pablo “El Pablote” González. He was a significant morphine trafficker known as the “king of morphine” on both sides of the border. They couldn’t have been more different – El Pablote was loud, a trigger-happy womanizer, a drinker and an uncalculated risk-taker in your face type of person. La Nacha was a calculated low key risk-taker who was more interested in quiet asset accumulation than cabaret-hopping along the Calle Diablo.

Setting up the La Nacha Cartel

As unusual as their union was, it worked and together, they formed the first Mexican drug cartel, dominating drug trafficking activities along parts of the US-Mexico border. Arrests years later of the La Nacha cartel often involved take downs of 20 to 40 suspected members, attesting to both the organized nature and size of the cartel some 90 years ago.

In the beginning, they controlled just the trafficking of marijuana and morphine into ​​El Paso, Texas and in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, but quickly expanded to control the drug trade in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora and Sinaloa.

Chihuahua, Sonora and Sinaloa states controlled by La Nacha

La Nacha seems to have understood very quickly that she could run the La Nacha Cartel any way she wanted to in Mexico. One day, she set her sights on Sam Hing’s supply business with the Caro and Fonseca families and his Juárez drug dens.

La Nacha kills 11 rivals

In 1925, she ordered the killing of Sam Hing and ten of his associates. They were executed in the streets of Juárez, all in one night. Some of their bodies were dumped in the desert and others in the Rio Grande.

La Nacha is believed to have taken over all of Hing’s legitimate businesses, his illegitimate businesses and his marijuana deals with the Caro and Fonseca families. They were not her only drug suppliers – she bought marijuana grown in Juárez and heroin from Terreón.

El Pablote spins out of control

Although the La Nacha Cartel was thriving, El Pablote was getting out of control. In the course of ten years, he had been arrested over 100 times for various serious charges that included hijacking a car at gun point, operating a drug den, drug trafficking, assault, attempted abduction of a woman from a hotel, murder and sexual slavery. Each time, the charges dropped or stayed.

El Pablote’s arrests often made headlines in the 1920s

In 1928, there was considerable heat on him and he moved to El Paso, Texas, while La Nacha stayed in Juárez.

President of Mexico orders arrest of El Pablote

In 1929, he returned to Juárez and continued trafficking. The President of Mexico issued an order for his arrest for trafficking opium. He was arrested and brought to Mexico City for prosecution but a few months later, he was free and back in Juárez, where he and three other men attempted to kidnap a woman from a hotel and force her to go for a car ride with them. He was arrested, released and then arrested again for drug trafficking with 24 members of the La Nacha Cartel. The police promised that this time he would receive a long sentence. He didn’t.

Crime in Juárez was rampant. The mayor of Juárez was accused of accepting bribes from bar and club owners to ensure the local police looked the other way. In 1911, the Governor of Chihuahua sent orders to the mayor of Juárez to close illegal casino clubs and dens and casinos in Juárez six times. Each time, the orders were ignored. The Governor sent in the army and raided a handful of casino clubs operating at the back of saloons and clubs. The mayor was arrested and removed from his post. Days later, the casinos were open again and new ones sprouted up all the time into the mid-1930s.

Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921, Street Scene in Juarez, 1915 (Source: University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting El Paso Public Library)

El Pablote felt that he was untouchable but his days were numbered.

In 1930, he walked into a bar on Calle Diablo, plastered, and shot and killed a police officer. Some months later, he shot and killed a second police officer when he was drunk at a bar. He boasted the next day that he had eaten owls for breakfast. An owl was the term for a police officer who worked a night shift.

Two months later, he walked into the Popular Cabaret and never walked out. He was killed by a police officer in the bar, who said it was self-defence because it was El Pablote.

At his funeral, La Nacha promised to get revenge. “I promise you, darling, I promise you, dear”, she was reported as saying, “I will kill the one who killed you.” She never did. The truth was, many members of Mexican law enforcement were on her payroll.

First narco corrido was about El Pablote

The story of El Pablote became famous in Mexico and he was the first drug trafficker to have a Mexico drug ballad (known as a narco corrido) written about him. It was called “El Pablote.”

Narco corrido “El Pablote”, 1931 (Source: YouTube Channel of Frontera Collection)

While not the first narco corrido, it is the first one about a narco. Composed in 1931, it recounts the story of how El Pablote was a well-known drug trafficker and how he was killed. It describes him as a violent gunner who terrorized the border.

Narco corridos are popular in Mexico and narcocultura – to be the subject of the first narco corrido helped to grow the legend of El Pablote and La Nacha.

After death of El Pablote

After El Pablote’s death, La Nacha ran the cartel herself, strengthening her drug activities as far south as the State of Michoacán.

The story of La Nacha executing Sam Hing and his men in the streets of Juárez to take over his drug business served as a reminder not to cross her.

Violence, corruption and loyalty

Like any drug cartel, La Nacha made deep alliances with corruptible Mexican law enforcement agencies in several states and with politicians to ensure she could operate the drug cartel unimpeded. She did things that later became standard procedure for cartel leaders but that no one had done before – for example, she had law enforcement issue her a set of credentials that allowed her to travel without being stopped or arrested across Mexico – a tactic that the Caros and Fonsecas emulated when Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo formed the Guadalajara Cartel. If she was going to run drugs up and down the coast, she needed to ensure that her team wouldn’t be arrested along the way.

Long before cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar and Joaquín “El Chapo” Archivaldo Guzmán Loera thought of the idea, she rallied support among the poorest of Juárez’s families by stepping in where governments didn’t, setting up charities, and food programs for families in Juárez which helped build a base of loyalty towards her among the people of Juárez.

Those three things – violence, corruption and loyalty – helped La Nacha remain relatively untouchable as a major drug trafficker and was the operational model copied by many drug cartel leaders decades after her.

Federal Bureau of Narcotics identifies La Nacha as major drug trafficker

In the mid-1930s, the US Treasury Department became increasingly concerned with drugs coming in from Mexico. Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, an agency within Treasury, set his sights on La Nacha as the main Mexican drug trafficker causing harm to the fabric of American society. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics later merged with another agency and became the DEA. A virtual tour of Anslinger’s life and impact is here.

Henry Anslinger with John F. Kennedy (Source: Council of Advancement and Support of Education)

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics described La Nacha as the leader of an international drug organization that ran the largest international drug trafficking operation between Mexico and the US, and one of the major suppliers of illicit drugs trafficked in the US. Director Anslinger said that she was the brains behind Mexican drugs showing up across America in several cities [with supply routes and a drug infrastructure] with a reach that included New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.

In 1933, she was arrested for selling heroin in her home. She contested the charges, alleging that she travelled to places such as Sinaloa and Jalisco to sell dry goods. The charges did not stick.

In 1939, La Nacha moved around and spent some time in Torrerón, Coahuila, and in Jalisco where she invested in poppy fields and in Guadalajara, where she built a lab to manufacture morphine and heroin.

Mexico becomes major US illicit drug supplier for 1st time

1942 was an important year in US-Mexican drug history and policy. That year, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics reported that there was a shortage of illicit morphine and all of the illicit versions that entered the US were from labs in Guadalajara. They also reported that, for the first time ever, Mexico had become a major supplier of illicit drugs into the US, joining the ranks of Iran and Cuba, with illicit drugs from Mexico showing up in every major city in America. Anslinger reported that while illegal drug distributors and dealers were being arrested and prosecuted in the US, the problem could only be resolved if producers in Mexico were stopped. That meant La Nacha.

Bureau of Narcotics report, 1943

A sting to catch La Nacha

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics set to work infiltrating the La Nacha Cartel in Mexico. Later that year, working undercover, agents met several of her key facilitators – her lawyer, chauffeur and her chemist in Guadalajara. They were taken to poppy fields she owned in the mountains outside of Guadalajara, and to her lab where she manufactured morphine and heroin from raw opium. La Nacha clearly thought in a criminal way like no other mobster, for in order to protect the lab from being busted by police, she built it in the office of her lawyer.

Bureau agents set up a sting to entice cartel members to smuggle drugs manufactured by La Nacha into the US.

The sting operation worked and in June, 1942, several La Nacha cartel members arrived in Texas with morphine concealed in the gas tank of a car. Two days later, other cartel members delivered tins of opium to undercover agents in El Paso. Thirteen were indicted, including La Nacha, in San Antonio, Texas, for drug trafficking.

La Nacha sought for extradition

Anslinger sought the extradition of La Nacha which was denied by Mexico. In order to effect service upon her of the indictment, Mexico agreed to arrest La Nacha. She was arrested and charged with administering morphine to an addict at one of her drug dens and served with the indictment from Texas.

Arrest of La Nacha, 1942

Rather than extradite La Nacha from Mexico, the Mexican government exercised wartime legislation to send her under remand to Islas Marias, the Mexican prison on an island off Mexico for dangerous criminals. She was then transferred to a jail in Juárez, where she continued to operate the cartel with the help of her children. She was released when the war was over.

Move to Guadalajara

La Nacha moved to Guadalajara after prison for the same reason so many others flee to southern Mexico – to lay low and run underground operations away from the spotlight. It is believed that she spent much of the 1950s and 1960s between Guadalajara, where she could manage her drug lab, and Juárez, overseeing the trafficking operations.

Several of her children and grandchildren continued the drug businesses in Juárez. Two of her grandchildren, Héctor Ruiz González and Eduardo Amador González, became leading drug traffickers in the La Nacha Cartel in the 1960s. Several times in those years, members of the La Nacha Cartel were arrested but not La Nacha herself.

In 1961, Mexico’s Policía Judicial Federal issued an extraordinary statement to the media, stating that it was untrue that La Nacha was associated or involved in drug trafficking activities in Mexico, and that her immense wealth made such activities unnecessary. They accused US law enforcement of invading Mexican territory for drug investigations, leading innocent citizens into the US where they were arrested and narcotics were planted on them. The message was clear – the Policía Judicial Federal had the back of La Nacha.

La Nacha owned brothels, poppy fields, drug dens, ranches and drug labs

The US government nonetheless continued to seek her extradition continuing into the 1970s. They informed Mexico that their intelligence showed that La Nacha led organized criminal drug trafficking across Mexico and into the US, and owned prostitution houses, poppy fields, ranches, drug dens and drug labs. They wanted La Nacha, her grandson, Héctor Ruiz González, and Jose Roberto “El Picho” Zamora, whom they considered the kingpins.

Close to the end

It was not to be because by the mid-1970s, it was close to the end for everyone in the La Nacha Cartel.

La Nacha’s grandson, Eduardo Amador González, spent years in jail in the US, appealing an arrest in 1965 and a subsequent conviction for heroin trafficking. 33-year-old Héctor Ruiz González was killed in a suspicious car accident in 1973 – taking them both out of the picture and weakening the organization. The US government upped the pressure on Mexico. They told Mexico that she was the number one Mexican narcotics trafficker in the US and that La Nacha was more dangerous to the US than Lucky Luciano.

International mobster Lucky Luciano, 1948

Who could be more dangerous than Lucky Luciano? Mexico was persuaded. Mexican federal narcotics police issued a warrant for her arrest and let it be known that she was a fugitive.

A newspaper headline about La Nacha

La Nacha went underground. To disable her activities, officials reportedly seized US$3 million from one of her bank accounts in Juárez and US$4.5 million in cash from her safety deposit boxes.

La Nacha was never captured and by 1976, the Mexican government was reporting that the State of Sinaloa was the new epi-center of drug trafficking for the whole country with more drugs trafficked, imported and exported from there than anywhere else in the country.

La Nacha died in 1977.

Guadalajara and Juarez Cartels fill void

After her death, Raphael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo emerged to fill the drug cartel void in both Guadalajara and Juárez, her two main bases of operation. Together with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, they created the Guadalajara Cartel and the Juárez Cartel, relocating the nephew of Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, to run operations in Juárez, key for border drug routes and marijuana fields in Chihuahua used by La Nacha.

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, 1985 (Source: Informador.mx)

El Chapo started his criminal career as a sicario for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, and later for the Guadalajara Cartel with Gallardo, Quintero and Carrillo.

Mobster legacies of La Nacha

Many of the mobster legacies attributed to some of the major Mexican cartel leaders, such as Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, are in reality legacies of La Nacha that they learned from her decades-long relationship with their families.

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, 1989

She created the violence, corruption and loyalty blueprint for later cartels to follow and did the hard work of establishing the drug trafficking infrastructure (supply, distribution and networks) in the US and Mexico that they were able to use to rapidly scale in the drug trafficking business. She showed by example, terrible as it was, the murder, violence and ruthlessness needed to take control of drug territories from rivals and how to run drugs up the coast into the US and move the proceeds back down in ways that were undetected. She also showed, by example, how to infiltrate law enforcement agencies, in her case the Policía Judicial Federal, and buy protection for drug operations and remain relatively free from prosecution.

Drug cartel leaders have come and gone and a few have reappeared but none have ever been able to operate a resilient sustaining drug cartel for over 50 years like the Queen of the North.

Why an important criminal figure in the history of organized crime in Mexico and the US has been ignored in history and narcocultura is probably attributable to the fact that history generally has struggled to present a diverse and inclusive picture of the past. La Nacha is no hero but its important to evaluate the role that women played, and continue to play, in the formation of transnational criminal organizations and the context of how their networks function in order to have enhanced visibility to detect, deter and control its harmful effects on the rule of law.

End Notes

Family of La Nacha & El Pablote

No research has been done on the identity or whereabouts of the descendants of the infamous La Nacha and El Pablote. We know that among the real property La Nacha owned, directly or indirectly, was at least one ranch in Cases Grandes, Chihuahua, where Héctor Ruiz González lived with his wife and children before he was murdered in 1973. Héctor’s children were raised in Cases Grandes, and there may be direct descendants of La Nacha and El Pablote in Cases Grandes. The same is true of Juárez.

One wonders if Roberto “El Mudo” González Montes, who lives in the same town of Cases Grandes, who is believed to lead the La Línea cartel, may be a relative of the La Nacha González clan. La Nacha’s old marijuana supplier, Rafael Caro Quintero has allegedly hooked up with El Mudo and La Línea. Why La Línea; why a González; why Cases Grandes?

Roberto “El Mudo” González Montes (Source: Mexico News Daily)

Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo & Amado Carrillo Fuentes

A lot has been written suggesting or stating that Rafael Caro Quintero became a drug trafficker in 1980, started an international drug cartel that same year which became successful immediately with suppliers and distributors lined up to distribute drugs across the US. That narrative isn’t accurate.

Rafael Caro Quintero’s grandparents, and many members of his extended family, were marijuana growers over 100 years ago.

We know that they sold illicit drugs from their property to La Nacha in 1925, and before her, to Sam Hing before 1920, and Hing arranged for ways to ship it to Juarez for several years before La Nacha took over his business. We also know that in 1966, Rafael Caro Quintero grew marijuana and then poppies on a full-time basis with his mother on their property, and they sold it to many distributors as far north as Chihuahua. At that time, La Nacha was living in Guadalajara running her drug lab, and buying drug as a wholesaler from the Caro Quintero and Fonseca Carrillo families. By then, they had all been in the illicit drug business together for forty years.

Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto “Don Neto” Fonseca Carrillo were both suppliers to La Nacha but that was not the only connection between them – Rafael Caro Quintero knew Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo since birth and their families inter-married.

Rafael Caro Quintero did not acquire wealth overnight. By 1980, the DEA had already located over US$1 billion in assets acquired from criminal activities held by the then 28-year-old Rafael Caro Quintero. He had that much wealth because he had been in the illicit drug business since he was 14. By the time he was 37, he held hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts in Panama, Luxembourg and Germany. Recently, he has admitted that he trafficked drugs for 31 years.

Around the time of the start of the decline of the La Nacha Cartel, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo sent his nephew, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, to take over organized drug activities in Juárez and the surrounding area in Chihuahua. With La Nacha’s family gone, he needed someone he could trust so far away to continue to find a market for heroin and marijuana the family produced and supplied up north. Amado Carrillo Fuentes obliged his uncle and eventually helped form what became the Juárez Cartel.

Rafael Caro Quintero was arrested in 1985 for the murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Salazar, and was incarcerated in Mexico until 2013, when he was released. He is wanted by the FBI and a US$20 million award is available for information leading to his arrest.

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo was arrested in 1985, also for the murder of Kiki Camarena, and incarcerated in Mexico until 2016, when he was released and confined to his house.

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo & El Chapo

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo was arrested in 1989 and convicted of various serious crimes including for the murder of Kiki Camarena and remains incarcerated in Mexico. He wrote a short biography of his life here, in which he says that his children, were given visas to enter Canada, and moved there to “study.”

El Chapo was one of the first sicario hires of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and later he worked for the Guadalajara Cartel for the short time it was operational. When the Guadalajara Cartel collapsed, El Chapo led the Sinaloa Cartel in 1988. In 2016, he was captured in Mexico and extradited to the US, where he was convicted of numerous criminal cartel-related offences. He is currently incarcerated in the US. In 2013, he came out of hiding to pay a visit to Rafael Caro Quintero, when the latter was released from prison.

El Chapo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero are all from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico and they knew each other since they were children.

Forfeiture of proceeds of crime

The idea of forfeiting proceeds of crime in terms of cash from criminal activities was invented in Mexico. The first drug trafficking proceeds of crime forfeiture of cash by a government occurred in Mexico in the 1940s, in connection with the forfeiture of the wealth of a different female drug trafficker who was accused of trafficking heroin to Canada. Mexico then used its forfeiture tool in 1973, to seize million of dollars in cash from La Nacha.

Chinese clubs

To this day, Chinese foreign nationals in the US, Canada and Hong Kong continue the club system for organized illegal gambling and loan sharking, often accompanied by prostitution. Clubs charge high membership fees and are open only to Chinese foreign nationals, often only of Han ancestry. Chinese clubs also serve other functions such as networks for legal and illegal capital raising efforts. Clubs in Hong Kong and Canada also often function as private lunch clubs.

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Russian national who provided money laundering as a service, pleads guilty in US

By Christine Duhaime | December 18th, 2020

A Russian national, Maksim Boiko, who was accused of operating a money laundering as a service (“MLaaS“) business, pleaded guilty in Pittsburg today, to one count of conspiracy to launder money. In this case, the MLaaS involved opening personal and company bank accounts to receive and then move money for criminals and opening Bitcoin accounts at various digital currency exchanges for the same purpose.

The MLaaS fee was between 40% to 50% – slightly higher than commissions charged by MLaaS operators in Hong Kong and China.

Briefcase of cash (Source: FBI affidavit)

Cybercriminals hired Boiko to launder money

Boiko was among 20 eastern Europeans accused of being part of QQAAZZ, an organized criminal group that laundered proceeds of crime for cybercriminals around the world. He was arrested in Miami on January 20, 2020, attempting to enter the US.

Cash from China (Source: Instagram of Boiko)

The members of QQAAZZ are alleged to have moved tens of millions of dollars since 2016 to be laundered.

Boiko posted numerous photos on Instagram of an accumulation of cash from the US, Hong Kong and China, and of expensive sports cars. In an affidavit, the FBI deposed that Boiko also had photos of his accumulation of wealth on his Apple iCloud account.

Digital currency exchanges

Boiko held an account at the now-defunct BTC-e digital currency exchange and received 136 Bitcoin to his wallet address. Members of QQAAZZ held Bitcoin accounts at Binance, Coinbase, Bitstamp and Revolut that were used for money laundering.

Washing at a bank (Source: Instagram of Boiko)

The FBI deposed that Boiko used bank accounts in China, among other jurisdictions, to launder funds and communicated on an instant messaging platform called Jabber, used almost exclusively by criminals.

In order to provide the money laundering service, Boiko and other members of QQAAZZ, caused to be incorporated several private companies (shells) that had no purpose other than to be used to obtain a bank account in a lax AML jurisdiction. The MLaaS was advertised in Russia on Mazafaka as “a global, complicit bank drop service.”

Life of luxury

The Yacht experience (Source: Instagram of Boiko)
The Rolls experience (Source: Instagram of Boiko)
The Cadillac experience (Source: Instagram of Boiko)

Other Insta posting of wads of cash from Canada

Interestingly, the wads of cash that Boiko posted on his Instagram account seem to pale in comparison to photos (such as the one below) posted by one or more Canadians on their Instagram account(s) who promoted an ICO run by Canadians called HabibiCoin.

US$770,000 cash shown on Instagram account of a
Montreal promoter of the ICO HabibiCoin (Source: Instagram)
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How Canada was used during a global Covid-19 disinformation campaign against NATO

By Christine Duhaime | December 7th, 2020

Canadian troops

According to a report by NATO on countering disinformation, foreign state actors and others, launched a series of disinformation campaigns in Europe in connection with Covid-19 in April, 2020, one of which involved disseminating false information that Canadian troops were responsible for infecting Latvia with the Covid-19 virus.

Latvia

The disinformation campaign involved an elaborate scheme that manufactured a fake journalist’s interview in Latvia, fake documents published on social media and a statement alleged to be from Latvia’s Minister of Defence that was fabricated and sent from a fake email address. Presumably, the disinformation campaign was to elicit unrest.

Poland and Lithuania

At the same time, NATO says that two other similar disinformation campaigns were launched in Poland and Lithuania. In Poland, a forged letter from a Polish military leader was released purporting to criticize US troops. In Lithuania, a forged letter from NATO’s Secretary General was published alleging that NATO was withdrawing its troops from Lithuania.

False narratives were disseminated on social media accounts, including a fake social media account of a well-known journalist. The disinformation campaign went so far as to publish on YouTube, an edited speech given by NATO on an unrelated topic, repurposed to appear as if it was in respect of Covid-19, when it was not.

Laundering disinformation

All of the pieces of disinformation were laundered through multiple news outlets and on social media – some wittingly and some unwittingly. The report by NATO highlights the fact that it is not simply the creation of false narratives that impacts international security that is of global concern, but the laundering of false information through trusted platforms.

Depending upon its content, disinformation falls within the category of a national security threat or an international security issue because it sows discord and undermines confidence and trust in our democratic intuitions. When there is distrust of democratic institutions, they are at risk of remaining resilient. Disinformation can pose immediate threats when it causes people to question information from government sources and make decisions that affect national well-being. A prime example is a population’s response to government directions during a pandemic.

Inventor of disinformation

It is sometimes believed that the KGB invented and/or mastered disinformation but that is not accurate or supported by intelligence research.

The modern inventor of disinformation campaigns and fake news to manipulate foreign governments and the public and to elicit military action was a Canadian named William Stephenson. He faked his name (his real name was William Stanger), his background, his past and his education and used it to land a top-level job working for MI6 during WWII. Stanger was close to James Bond creator Ian Fleming and many of the 007 characteristics we all know (such as a Vodka Martini shaken, not stirred) are based on William Stanger.

Although Canadian, Stanger engaged in deep disinformation tactics in the US (against the American people in favour of the British) to incentivize Americans and the US government to financially support the UK during WWII, and join the war. Because his conduct was in furtherance of efforts to defeat Hitler, history has been kind to Stanger and he was knighted at the request of Churchill.

In today’s world, neither Stanger nor his techniques would be publicly lauded, like they were back then. Political disinformation of the breath, reach and manipulative effect that Stanger practiced as a foreign agent to manipulate a country that was an ally, was on another level altogether. It is now accepted in the intelligence community that deep disinformation poses significant threats to the rule of law and erodes trust in government institutions.

Shaken, not stirred (Source: YouTube)
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Malta businessman allegedly laundered €500 billion for ‘Ndrangheta and other Mafia; was preparing to launder €136 billion more

By Christine Duhaime | November 30th, 2020

According to prosecutors in Italy, a businessman in Malta and alleged IT specialist, Roberto Recordare, is under investigation for allegedly having laundered €500 billion in proceeds of crime for the ‘Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra and Camorra Mafia groups and for planning to launder €136 billion more. Approximately €36 billion of the amount laundered was allegedly in cash. By sheer amount, Recordare may be the biggest money launderer of all time.

Roberto Recordare

Italian prosecutors said that they learned of Recordare’s activities in Malta through telephone interceptions. Allegedly, he laundered funds through Dubai, Afghanistan and other countries that he thought were removed from the visibility of the US Treasury.

Recordare is allegedly aligned with the ‘Ndrangheta and is from the ‘Ndrangheta region of Calabria. It is believed that the ‘Ndrangheta offered money laundering as a service to other Mafia organizations for a commission with Recordare as the laundering kingpin.

Planned to kill Italian prosecutor

During the intercepted telephone communications, the police say that Recordare discussed killing an Italian prosecutor with a bomb, triggering a common law duty to warn from law enforcement in respect of the prosecutor. During those calls, Recordare allegedly discussed his use of private companies in Malta to front laundering activities. Two private companies tied to him in Malta are  Golem Malta Limited and Recordare Holding Limited.

According to this report, Recordare also planned to launder money using fake securities and fake humanitarian aid projects with funds routed through a lawyer. In 2017, he moved his documents to a cloud-based service based in Aruba, believing that the documents would be safe from law enforcement.

Recordare allegedly laughed about bombing death of Malta journalist

During the intercepted telephone communications, Recordare is alleged to have laughed about the assassination of Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died as a result of a car bomb and was recorded as saying that they were still picking up pieces of her in Malta. Ms. Galizia wrote a blog in which she covered financial crime and corruption in Malta.

Recordare’s two companies show up in the Paradise Papers database.

Recordare’s Malta companies in Paradise Papers

Malta is know for very lax anti-money laundering compliance. In 2017 through to 2018, it embarked on a tour of several countries, including Canada, to recruit Bitcoin and Blockchain companies to move their business there with the promise of light to no financial crime oversight, which is why today, there are still quite a number of Bitcoin digital currency exchanges and other digital currency enterprises physically or on paper, domiciled in Malta.

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Murder, violence and bombs – how the Mafia extorts a whole city

By Christine Duhaime | November 29th, 2020

Controlling a whole city

It can sometimes be hard to grasp the extent to which the Mafia operates its extortion racket against businesses, and the extent to which it controls so many businesses with threats of bombs, violence and death.

Società Foggiana detonates a bomb at a store that wouldn’t pay extortion (Source: YouTube)

An Italian investigating Judge, Francesco Agnino, came across Mafia extortion activities that were so pervasive, the whole city of Foggia, was under the control of the fifth Mafia, the Società Foggiana. In order to provide visibility over the problem, he decided to publish the names of the businesses being extorted by the Società Foggiana with the amounts extorted, as part of an investigation that was revealed by law enforcement last week.

Monthly extortion payments

In Foggia, extortion payments by the Società Foggiana are called an insurance premium.

Among the extortions found by law enforcement were:

  • Buononato SNC, a funereal home forced to pay €3,000 per month;
  • Fabbri SRL, an excavation company forced to pay €1,200 per month; and
  • Alessandro Carniola, a promoter forced to pay €1,500 per month.

Forced hires of Mafia family and friends

Some businesses were forced to hire employees who were members or friends of the Società Foggiana. For example, Daunia Spedizioni SRL, a transportation company, was forced to pay an undisclosed amount in extortion and hire three people aligned with the Mafia.

Rigging horse races

A horse jockey was forced to rig a standardbred horse race so that bets placed on a less favoured horse where the odds were higher, would pay out when the horse placed. Only the horse didn’t place and the Mafia threatened to kill the jockey and his son if he did not pay the Mafia back the money they would have made.

Two other jockeys who raced horses with best ranking finish times, were forced to rig standardbred horse races at the Ippodromo Del Sauri to make sure that their horses did not place so that the highest odds were paid out to the Mafia. Standardbred horse races tend to be favoured by Mafia for rigging because there is less oversight compared to thoroughbred horse racing. Different groups of Mafia have rigged horse races in the past. In 2017, the Palermo racetrack was suspended after law enforcement found evidence that the Cosa Nostra Mafia was rigging races and bets.

In Sicily, they also engage in illegal horse racing in the streets for money, a practice that involves drugging horses and forcing them to run for many miles, chasing them with scooters to terrorize them into continuing to run to exhaustion.

An illegal horse race in Italy (Source: YouTube)

Every sector was paying extortion

The tentacles of the Mafia in Foggia were felt in the food services sector – at the local farmer’s market, a merchant from Cerignola was forced to pay €3,000 a month to the Mafia. Tamma, a pasta factory, was forced to pay the Mafia €3,000 per month and forced to hire associates of the Società Foggiana in the factory.

Bars, restaurants, cafes and funeral homes were all forced to pay extortion fees to the Mafia.

Despite Covid-19, the Società Foggiana has continued its extortion, robbery, murder, gambling and fraud activities. A report (here) by Le Iene, covers their Covid-19 activities. In April, they bombed an old age home because its owner would not pay an extortion fee.

According to the investigation, the different families of the Società Foggiana met to go over lists of businesses that were paying extortion fees, with a view to identifying any that were not part of the payment scheme so that they could be “attacked.”

A Christmas bonus for the Mafia

The investigators said that they learned that extortion is calculated per month but is collected only every three months and then once more for Christmas, as a Christmas bonus for the Mafia.

The investigation led to the arrests of several members of the Società Foggiana this month for extortion, violence, attempted murder and membership in the Mafia.

Operation against the Società Foggiana (Source: YouTube)

In a new accelerated criminal trial process, 25 members of the Società Foggiana were convicted and sentenced to terms of incarceration ranging from four months to 18 years.

The Società Foggiana is called the fifth Mafia because they are considered the fifth Mafia organized group to form. They are the most violent at this time and the least interested in being opaque.

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Well-known leaders of organized crime welcomed at Montréal area casinos

By Christine Duhaime | November 26th, 2020

According to an investigation by a number of journalists with the Journal de Montréal (here), two casinos managed by Loto-Québec, a government agency, laid out the red carpet to well-known organized crime figures associated with the Cosa Nostra Mafia and Hell’s Angels.

Stefano Sollecito was VIP gambler

Their investigation found that Stefano Sollecito, said to be a well-known member of the Montréal Mafia and the son of Rocco Sollecito, gambled $2.5 million over the course of 2 to 3 years at the Casino de Montréal. Moreover, Sollecito was treated as a casino VIP client, and with deference by registered casino employees during phone calls obtained by the Journal de Montréal.

In 2019, Sollecito was one of the top ten gamblers at the Casino de Montréal a few months after being released from incarceration for gangsterism and cocaine trafficking charges. According to the investigation, although a well-known Mafia figure, Sollecito had bank accounts at the TD Bank and the National Bank, which he used to deposit cheques from gambling winnings.

The investigation found that Vito Rizzuto’s son, Leonardo Rizzuto, also gambled at casinos in Québec.

Members of Rizzuto organization (Source: RCMP Project Colisée Powerpoint, 2012)

Journalist Eric Thibault, who participated in the investigation, said during a TV interview that organized crime at Québec casinos was not new. He said that the RCMP learned during Operation Colisée, a project to dismantle the Rizzuto criminal organization, that Francesco Del Balso, said to be a well-known member of the Rizzuto organized crime family, had spent $7 million gambling with Loto-Québec in three years and that Loto-Québec had issued him cheques totalling $2.5 million.

Hell’s Angels also at casinos

Members of the Hell’s Angels also were permitted to gamble at government casinos in Québec, including David Lefebvre and Gregory Woolley.

Hell’s Angels member Gregory Woolley was seen by the Sûreté du Québec meeting Ziad Ziade, a Lebanese organized crime figure, at a restaurant at the Casino de Montréal.

Sollecito was not simply allowed to gamble, he was also comped freebies at two Montréal area casinos as a VIP gambler including a free dinner for four, free golfing, free hotel rooms and free concert tickets.

The investigation by the Journal de Montréal reported that 18 organized criminal groups were found to have laundered money at casinos in Québec.

Mr. Thibault said that Loto-Québec’s response to the investigation was that it followed all the laws applicable to it operating a registered casino as a government agency.

Did Loto-Québec know?

You may be wondering – did the Loto-Québec employees know these were organized crime figures? In one segment (here) as part of the published story, Richard Martineau interviewed one of the journalists who broke the story, Félix Séguin, and asks that very question directly. Here’s how the conversation loosely went, translated from French:

Martineau: That’s what I wanted to ask you, as a question – did they know?

Séguin: Well, of course…let me tell you a little story. At one point, the security of the Montréal Casino observed Mafia figures coming in to gamble in the millions per year and they filed reports with the lottery corporation. The lottery corporation informed FINTRAC that it believed that the Mafia was frequenting the Montréal Casino to launder money. FINTRAC responded “Yes, the Mafia is using you to launder money.” With one hand, Loto-Québec was reporting the Mafia to FINTRAC; with the other hand they were giving them gifts so that they would continue to spend money there. Do you see a problem of ethics and governance?

Martineau: But this is a problem of money has no smell – come gamble at casinos because we have a mission to bring in the most amount of money possible for the coffers of the state. We’ll pinch our nose; we’ll close our eyes, and that’s it – incredible.

Séguin: What you just said there has a certain validity. In some countries and in provinces, we have nationalized gambling and regulate it, partly to make sure to keep Mafia out. In some places like Switzerland and Monaco, with regulated casinos what they do is super interesting – where they suspect a person is gambling with proceeds of crime, they charge a surtax on the funds to the Mafia gambler. And you know what? The Mafia figures actually pay the surtax to launder money! In Canada, we have nationalized gambling (government conducts and manages all gambling).

Martineau: A few years ago, I spoke to Revenue Québec and asked them that, if I was the Mafia, if I had to pay sales taxes. They said yes, the Mafia has to pay those taxes by filling out a form and disclosing what the source is from, let’s say, drug trafficking. I asked if Revenue Québec would report me to the police and they said no, that Revenue Québec is not “stouleur” (means a rat or a tattle-tale) and Revenue Québec will not stouleur you to the police because there is a wall between us and law enforcement.

Séguin: I’m less sure that is accurate.

Martineau: No, he told me that. I asked if I could deduct my trips to Colombia to buy drugs and equipment I bought to weigh drugs and he said “yes” those are your expenses. It was surreal.

Martineau: Look, Loto-Québec is like Hydro-Québec, a state agency within a state agency and they are opaque and its hard to get information because they protect it. You did a sacré job with this investigation (a “sacré job” with an investigation means a hell of an investigation).

Séguin: One of the issues we discussed in editorial meetings was if a Mafia passes a test of identity with Loto-Québec and the test is faulty and they did not catch that it was the Mafia, what sort of standards do you have? In British Columbia, they have a commission looking at casino money laundering called the Cullen Commission and it deals with the same type of strategy as happened in British Columbia, and when we showed the Commission the Loto-Québec documents they said it was “troubling and shocking.” Meanwhile, Loto-Québec said they practiced the highest standards.

You can read the original series of stories from the Journal de Montréal website here. The journalists’ investigation and their writing of the stories that flowed from it really is a sacré job.

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Offshore advisory firm that once advised Crocodile Dundee star pleads guilty to helping wealthy clients hide money in tax havens

By Christine Duhaime | November 23rd, 2020

Strachans SA

Last month, Strachans SA, pleaded guilty in the US to hiding income and assets in offshore bank accounts, and in various corporate entities from tax authorities for its clients. Strachans SA was an accounting and financial services firm based in Jersey and Switzerland. In 2013, it became news-worthy when it and/or one of its shareholders were accused of the disappearance of US$34 million owned by Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan, that it had helped Hogan park in offshore bank accounts.

Strachans SA created trusts, foundations and companies in offshore jurisdictions for clients and acquired banking for them using those corporate documents at financial institutions around the world. Interestingly, it earned US$4.7 million in fees in five years from 60 US residents, and other fees from non-US residents. One of its founders was an accountant named Philip Egglishaw.

2020 Interpol notice of Egglishaw (Source: Interpol)

Offshore advisory services

Offshore entities created by professional facilitators to hide money and defeat the rule of law on behalf of clients, must acquire assets from the evading clients and must be able to facilitate those evading clients to subsequently have access to those funds (sometimes referred to as repatriation of funds), both in ways that obfuscate the trail of money so that no law enforcement agency has visibility on the assets and the person behind the assets. That’s essentially the service they offer.

One can think of it as a two-way street for investigations purposes in terms of the movement of money – the professional services firm sits in the middle as the conduit for the intake of wealth being exited from country “A” and then is the conduit for the shipping back of that wealth in tranches to country “A” over the course of several years. The shipping back of wealth is the part that is high risk for these type of bad actors and that part of their services is where more resources are expended in creating layers to obfuscate money movements.

Fake loans, fake consulting contracts and dummy invoices

In order to manage that part of the services that involved repatriation of client funds, Strachans SA admitted that it created fake loans, fake consultancy agreements and dummy invoices for clients.

For example, under the fake consultancy arrangements, a Strachans SA entity would fake hire the client for services that were never rendered, creating a false reason to send the client’s money back to them in a tranche as fake consulting fees when the client needed some portion of funds to spend.

Entertainment guru Glenn Wheatley, who was one of Strachans SA’s clients in Australia said he used the fake loan scheme to repatriate money he had hidden offshore. The way he described repatriating his hidden money from Switzerland to Australia was as follows: “all I had to do was approve the transaction. The lawyer sent the money off, deducted his secret fee and arranged for the money to come back as a loan.”

In a Strachans SA proceeding in Australia, a Supreme Court judge referenced one document written by a law firm describing a repatriation scheme, which gave instructions that 25% of client funds moved to an entity to be repatriated were to be retained. While it’s not clear, 25% appears to be the secret fee that Wheatley says was payable, and if that is the case, it suggests that a law firm extracted a 25% cut to launder money and created the documentation to paper the money laundering transaction.

Credit cards in fake names

Certain clients of Strachans SA said that Strachans SA arranged for them to be given branded credit cards issued by MasterCard or Visa in fake names to use as a method to repatriate their funds from Switzerland.

The issuing and mailing of credit cards to other countries, and more particularly charge cards, are a significant money laundering vehicle often used for sanctions avoidance and to evade currency controls.

Strachans SA also placed some client funds in the personal bank accounts of the shareholders of Strachans SA, and in essence its shareholders then became the personal bankers of the clients, holding their funds to make sure that tax authorities would not suspect its provenance.

Australia’s investigations

The Strachans SA offshore services scheme first came to light in Australia.

In 2004, the Australian government seized a laptop owned by Egglishaw. The laptop contained the files of the clients of Strachans SA and communications among clients and the firm. Egglishaw brought a motion for the suppression of the information on the laptop and lost. Based on the information obtained by Egglishaw, the government commenced a criminal investigation into suspected money laundering and fraud by Australian residents using Strachans SA and a bank it owned called Corner Banca SA in Lugarno, Switzerland.

On June 9, 2005, Australian federal police executed 48 search warrants over two days at law firms and accountant’s offices who were involved directly, or indirectly through clients of Strachans SA, and at the homes and offices of clients of Strachans SA.

Authorities had at first attempted to obtain information from law firms and were met with barriers of claims of privilege. They then obtained search warrants for client files on the basis of the exceptions to privilege and confidentiality over client files (arises when advice is sought or obtained in furtherance of unlawful conduct, wittingly or unwittingly involving a law firm).

Philip de Figuereido

A director of Strachans SA, Philip de Figuereido, was extradited to Australia from Jersey for money laundering and fraud, and spent a few years in jail. He then returned to Europe.

Philip Egglishaw

Egglishaw was charged with various offences in Australia connected to Strachans SA. He was alleged to have masterminded a US$2 billion offshore fraud scheme. He disappeared from Australia.

In 2013, an Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest.

On May 3, 2017, Egglishaw was located in Italy and arrested. He was released by an Italian court which held that the charges against him for fraud and money laundering had taken too long to be prosecuted.

Philip Egglishaw under arrest (Source: YouTube)

In 2017, a reporter located Egglishaw apparently living a lavish lifestyle at a mansion he had purchased in 1999, on the French Riviera in the town of Saint Paul-de- Vence near Nice. The mansion features a swimming pool, tennis court and manicured grounds and Egglishaw owns a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a black Mercedes and an Audi sports car. His brother, another shareholder of Strachans SA, allegedly owns a villa in Nice a few miles away.

Litigation involving Strachans SA over MLATs and trust documents

In 2012, Strachans SA was successfully sued in Jersey by the beneficiary of a family trust that it had set up for a client who was seeking information, as a beneficiary, on funds held in trust. The beneficiary was concerned by the investigation of Strachans SA by the Australian Crime Commission and the arrest of its director, Philip de Figuereido, and feared that the assets of her family trust had been misappropriated. Egglishaw refused to provide trust account information to her. Strachans SA and a trust company called Roker Trustees, who worked with Egglishaw, took the position that unless the beneficiary indemnified them in respect of their conduct of the file, and the funds they managed, she was not entitled to trust information. Strachans SA and Roker Trustees were not successful in the litigation to hide trust statements from a beneficiary.

In 2008, Strachans SA sued the Australian government over its use of MLATs with Switzerland for information on its affairs in that country. MLATs are agreements between countries for the provision of information where the conduct of a legal or natural person in the requesting country involves criminal offences but MLATs have been misused for information in connection with investigations into regulatory offences to obtain information.

In this case, Switzerland pushed back in respect of the MLAT request and sought evidence that the alleged conduct was criminal (in criminal legislation) and was conduct that could be proven to be attached to the person(s) who were the target of the MLAT. Records and information obtained by MLATs that are not compliant with the terms of MLATs or national laws, can be challenged and derail a prosecution or later overturn a conviction because the evidence is tainted (poisonous tree doctrine(1)). Switzerland ultimately refused to proceed against Egglishaw because of the inability to tie the conduct to criminal offences under national criminal legislation provably attributed to Egglishaw.

Interestingly, one of the key points of argument in the MLAT litigation commenced by Strachans SA was correspondence by law firms giving instructions to Strachans SA for the movement of money for repatriation via fake documents and the 25% retainer that was to be deducted from funds back to the clients. The Australian government provided, among other things, these types of law firm communications to establish that the conduct constituted criminal offences under criminal statutes and ergo met the terms of the MLAT. Strachans SA argued that the communications were documents from law firms, not them and to the extent it evidenced criminality, it was in respect of the authors of the documents, not them. The Court agreed with Strachans SA on that point.

You can read more about the leading case on MLATs here. That case,  Elgizouli v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, which involved the ISIS Beatles, was brought about when the mother of one of the ISIS Beatles learned years after the fact that an MLAT request had been used to provide information about her son to the US government. Despite the passage of years, she was able to bring a judicial review application to prevent the use of written records and information in respect of her son being shared with the US government.

MLATs can be challenged on two fronts – by a natural or legal person in the requesting country arguing that the originating MLAT suffers some legal impediment to be effective (like Strachans SA did) under the laws of the requesting country, or in the receiving country arguing that the receiving MLAT, if complied with, violates the rights of the natural or legal person targeted under the receiving country’s laws (like Ms. Elgizouli did). They can also be challenged by a legal or natural person if an MLAT was used inappropriately to share or obtain information irrespective of the outcome of an investigation, or if too much information was sought or obtained that falls outside the four corners of the intended purpose of an MLAT.

(1) The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine is 100 years ago and arose in Silverthorne Lumber Company v. US, after LE seized corporate records without legal authority and photographed them. In 1910, US Courts held that evidence obtained without legal authority cannot be used in trials (Weeks). Silverthorne Lumber later established that evidence obtained without legal authority could not be used at all (not just not for trials). The doctrine is still alive today as part of American jurisprudence and is subject to some exceptions.

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Jimmy the Henchman, money-order money laundering and lawyer conflicts

By Christine Duhaime | November 13th, 2020

In case you missed it, in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19, James Rosemond, who is aka Jimmy The Henchman, lost his last appeal of his third conviction for charges of murder-for-hire and is now serving seven life sentences in US federal prison.

The Game talks about Jimmy the Henchman (Source: VladTV Channel on YouTube)

Rosemond founded Czar Entertainment in 2003, and managed the careers of several big names in the entertainment industry, including Akon, Mike Tyson, Sean Kingston and The Game.

Drug trafficking and money orders

Several years after starting his music company, he was charged pursuant to a thirteen-count superseding indictment, along with several co-defendants, charging that he had led and operated a criminal enterprise since 2007 which generated more than US$11 million a year in proceeds from cocaine distribution and that he had laundered the proceeds of crime.

Rosemond’s narcotics trafficking operations moved cocaine and proceeds of crime between LA and New York. The method in which he laundered money was through the US Postal Service in which cash proceeds were converted into money orders. Rosemond used those money orders to pay rent and tuition.

Murder-for-hire trials

He was later charged with arranging a murder-for-hire.

In 2007, members of a rap music group known as “G-Unit” assaulted Rosemond’s son outside his New York apartment. G-Unit was run by rapper 50 Cent.

James Rosemond Jr. speaks about his father (Source: GlobalGrindTV Channel on YouTube)

In 2009, Rosemond recruited a crew to kill Lowell Fletcher, one of the G-Unit members who had assaulted Rosemond’s son, in retaliation. Fletcher was killed on September 27, 2009, with a handgun owned by Rosemond.

Rosemond was tried three times for the murder-for-hire of Fletcher. However, the first trial was declared a mistrial. He was convicted in the second but the conviction was vacated by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was convicted in the third trial and in May 2020, lost an appeal of that conviction.

Lawyer conflicts from representing a criminal unit and one of its members

In 2011, the Rosemond case became note-worthy as well over complex issues that arose over potential lawyer conflicts.

What happened, in part, was that the government made arguments pursuant to Wheat v US and its progeny to have Rosemond’s lawyer disqualified for reasons of institutional integrity.

It argued, among other things, that Rosemond’s lawyer would be in the position of an unsworn witness, partly because of the fact that his law firm received a large payment for legal services in trust from funds that could not be attributed to revenues from Czar Entertainment or Rosemond. That placed the law firm in the position of being a witness against its own client in respect of the payment it had received. Since it was possible that it would be a witness, it could not also act for the client.

House counsel doctrine for organized crime members

Another lawyer conflict arose by virtue of the fact that the government argued that Rosemond’s lawyer was what are called “house counsel” in Mafia and criminal enterprise cases – meaning in essence that the law firm was akin to an in-house counsel, corporate lawyer, except to unincorporated entities (called criminal units) that form crime organizations.

In this case, the law firm – the “house counsel” – acted for the Rosemond enterprise (the criminal unit) and then crossed-over and acted individually for Rosemond (the person). It was the “house counsel” because it had acted, in the past, for more than one of the defendants in the ad hoc criminal enterprise, which in this case was the drug trafficking activities of Rosemond and his partners. Moreover, in the specific prosecution, one of the lawyers of the firm had met with a witness to discuss the government’s investigation, which meant that it could not then act for Rosemond. The multiple representations and the crossing-over placed the law firm in a conflict.

In a Canadian version, the same would apply for law firms that act for the Hell’s Angels, for example. Issues arise if they then act for any one of the individual members of that organization under the conflicts rules associated with the “house counsel” doctrine. To be clear, the “house counsel” doctrine necessarily starts with the law firm acting individually for one person of a criminal group – not the organization per se – and kicks in once the law firm acts for a second member. Lawyers may cross-over into conflicts without knowing that there is a house counsel doctrine that governs conflicts in respect of criminal enterprises, even if they are ad hoc, as in the case of Rosemond’s group.

The underlying conflicts rule when it comes to legal and natural persons is that a firm is not supposed to defend both a legal person (a company) and its directing minds (directors and officers) or members (shareholders or gang members) whether the defence is in a criminal, civil or regulatory matter.

Another conflicts problem arose in that the lawyer’s firm had previously acted for one of the parties besides Rosemond in the proceeding and that necessarily meant that the law firm’s interests diverged – the law firm could not honor its obligation to the former client not to act adverse in interest to it while it was subsequently representing Rosemond (the current client) in a litigation – the positions were not reconcilable.

Convictions have been overturned when law firm conflicts are present and lawyers have not disclosed them; ceased to act; or obtained, if possible, waivers in respect thereof, which is why governments move early to remove lawyers from acting when they may be in, or appear to be in, a conflict of interest that may jeopardize a proceeding and the rights of any one defendant.

Not surprisingly, one of the grounds of appeal later argued by Rosemond during one of his many appeals was that he was denied the right to a lawyer (and law firm) who was conflicts-free.

There have been at least three “house counsel” doctrine cases that are known – perhaps more that were never reported, and the doctrine mostly is used in the US where government and defence lawyers, and Courts very strictly apply conflicts rules because of a greater awareness that a breach of conflicts rules can completely de-rail a criminal prosecution and overturn a conviction.

One of the very first “house counsel” lawyers went on to become, decades later, the defence lawyer for the leader of the largest criminal enterprise at one time – El Chapo.

When clients lie to government

The defence of Rosemond in respect of his drug trafficking trial was extraordinarily complex, partly because Rosemond had lied to the government and thus his lawyer was faced with the reality that lawyers are prohibited from assisting clients to be untruthful in their testimony. The lies made by Rosemond, which impacted and limited his options as a defendant, were described by the Court as the hand his lawyer was dealt from the client’s gamble to go down a path of being untruthful to government agencies.

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Vancouver-based Blok Technologies Inc. cease traded by BC Securities Commission

By Christine Duhaime | November 9th, 2020

Cease trade order

This week, the British Columbia Securities Commission (the “BCSC“) issued a cease trade order (“CTO“) in respect of the securities of Blok Technologies Inc., (“Blok“) a British Columbia issuer. The CTO was issued for a failure of the issuer to make certain required periodic financial filings on Sedar.

Bridgemark case

Blok is part of the so-called Bridgemark Group scandal, which is a securities law enforcement action by the BCSC against 11 issuers, placees, shareholders and alleged consultants of certain issuers which alleges in essence that funds raised by private placements went to alleged consultants who were paid lump sums of money in advance for consulting services yet allegedly performed no work.

Two issuers admitted consultants did not perform services

Two of the eleven issuers have thus far admitted they paid the so-called consultants from funds raised via private placements for the performance of no work. Many of the same persons, whether as legal or natural persons, cross-over into several of the issuers.

Late filed material contracts

In July 2019, we summarized some of the allegations against Blok (here). As at that date, no material contracts had been filed on Sedar in respect of the consultants or the pre-payment of some consulting fees, and its listing application did not disclose such information. Since then, Blok late filed consulting arrangements on Sedar.

According to those late filings, Blok entered into 23 consulting contracts for services, some of which involve pre-payment before services were rendered and many of which were for the duplication, triplication or more, of the same services. For example, many consultants were paid for the same described services such as web services, corporate services or M&A services. The chart below summarizes some aspects of the contracts in respect of Blok.

Who had consulting agreements?

Table Notes:
(3) The payment to 1113300 BC Ltd. of stock options was at $0.10 per option and may have been what are called in-the-money stock options by up to an amount of $0.18 each option. Based on the closing price of the stock of Blok as at August 7, 2018, an exercise of the options awarded to this consultant was equal to $135,000 if exercised after deducting the payment of the exercise price. An in-the-money stock option occurs when the exercise price is lower than the closing price of the stock so that the person is said to be in the money and no longer has to be incentivized. To grant a significantly below FMV stock option, a director’s consent resolution is required, as is the consent of the listing agency and often the regulator and a lawyer must then provide a securities law opinion in respect thereof for options grants.
(5) The payment to Link Media LLC was in USD. As at the contract date of August 8, 2018, it was equal to $227,902.50.

Almost $5 million paid to consultants

The total amount paid, or payable, to these consultants by Blok seems to have been $4,795,402.50.

On an annualized basis, the four highest paid were Tavistock Capital Corp., Kendl Capital Limited, Hunton Advisory Ltd. and 1113300 BC Ltd.

Fourteen of the consultants executed a precedent consulting agreement (pre-drafted) with terms that are, in substance, verbatim. Each of those fourteen agreed to indemnify Blok and third parties in connection with the consulting agreements for any lawsuits, claims, demands and proceedings, including legal fees for, inter alia, a breach of the consulting agreements or negligence arising in respect thereof, and in addition, to indemnify for omissions in providing contractual services. The BCSC position in the Bridgemark case allegations are that there was altogether a complete omission to provide services by many consultants.

The indemnity provisions surprisingly, do not cap liability at the amount paid under the consulting agreements and therefore, the indemnity amounts that can be sought are limitless and are at least equal to amounts suffered by claimant shareholders, the issuer and the regulator.

Normally, in a consulting agreement involving an issuer, the consultant indemnifies and saves harmless the issuer from and against all claims, actions, losses, expenses, costs or damages of every nature and kind which the issuer may suffer as a result of a breach of a consulting agreement by a consultant or the negligence of the consultant but the contract normally limits that by providing that the liability for any amount or claim, regardless of the form of action, whether in contract or in tort, cannot exceed the greater of the amount of insurance recoverable by the consultant for a claim and the contract amount.

With respect to Blok, each consultant confirmed in writing that it received, or was aware that it could avail itself of receiving, independent legal advice before signing the contracts under which they agreed to indemnify the issuers and third parties.

Schedule Bs created together?

The same fourteen consulting agreements late-filed on Sedar a year ago have an oddity about them. The last page of each agreement, its Schedule B setting out the compensation, presents as a different document – more specifically – presents as if all the Schedule Bs of all the fourteen agreements are one document at the end of each of the fourteen agreements.

They present that way because of what are called law firm footers. Law firms use numerical and sometimes alpha-numerical footers which are different as between firms. In the industry, one can know which law firm created or saved, certain documents by footers.

Footers are document filing and location tools, used so that lawyers can find their own documents in a system. They are auto-generated by document management software that works with word processing software.

The Schedule Bs in the 14 consulting agreements all have the exact same footer and version, namely 32678251.2 (.2 means it was the auto-generated second version of document 32678251).

But only Schedule Bs have a footer – the first 13 pages of every consulting agreement each have no footers at all. And in contrast, page 14 of each consulting agreement has the same footer, suggesting that the compensation schedules were subsequently created as one document separate and apart from the consulting agreements.

Why only one page of the 14 page consulting agreements, the Schedule Bs, of the 14 consulting agreements all have the exact same footer, down to the version, is a mystery. An example of the Schedule Bs of three of the 14 consulting agreements with the same footer is provided below.

No material consulting contracts filed by Cryptobloc yet

Not all the issuers in the so-called Bridgemark scandal have filed their material contracts on Sedar in respect of consultants, as required, which prevents shareholders from having visibility on those arrangements. Cryptobloc, for example, which has undergone two subsequent name changes and is now in the battery business, has not filed its material contracts for its consultants on Sedar. It continues to be listed, though, announcing the raising of more funds from investors and the entering into of new contracts, which are also not filed on Sedar.

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Narco jets – how next to no security and oversight at private jet terminals, fuels use of private jets to move US$1 billion worth of drugs and money for drug cartels

By Christine Duhaime | November 5th, 2020

Jetting money around for cartels

According to a seasoned former agent with HSI, who gave an interview to the Courier Journal, private jets are being used to move drugs and bulk proceeds of crime in cash for the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, without much in the way of processes to give law enforcement visibility.

“The next time you look up and see a private jet, wonder to yourself: ‘Where’s it going? Where’d it come from, and what’s on board?’ “There’s a good chance it could be illicit narcotics”, the former HSI agent is quoted as saying in the Courier Journal article.

Security measures do not exist at secondary little airports that manage private jet passengers, luggage and cargo globally. According to the article, another HSI agent testified in a Court proceeding that private airports have “no security, no drug-sniffing dogs, no police and no TSA.”

The lack of security and oversight at private jet terminals creates gaps that criminal actors can and do exploit.

For example, Robert Carlson Jr., a California computer network specialist, used private jets and private little airports for a second job – to move over US$1 billion of drugs and cash across the US for the Sinaloa cartel. He was arrested in 2017, after police received a tip. He eventually pled guilty and is incarcerated in the US.

The company in Oregon that had rented its jet to Carlson Jr., lost it when it was seized and forfeited to the government.

It’s surprising that Carlson Jr. was not discovered earlier. His lifestyle was inconsistent with his employment. For example, Carlson Jr. had a US$8 million mansion and a Ferrari, ostensibly bought on his computer networking salary. A co-defendant of Carlson dealt with laundering the proceeds of crime in bulk cash for the Sinaloa that was moved by private jets throughout the US.

Narco jets crash and burn in Belize and Mexico

Narco jet abandoned in Belize in 2020.

In February, 2020, in Belize, a narco jet landed in Belize. It was flying “dark”, meaning its identification and tracking data were off. Its pilot and crew disappeared but it had 69 bales of cocaine onboard, which was seized by the government.

In 2019, another “dark” private jet made a rush landing in Belize along a private road. The jet broke in two shortly after the rough landing and the operators vanished with whatever was onboard. In terms of typology, it is believed to have been a narco jet, used to move narcotics and proceeds of crime.

Narco jet crashed and abandoned in Belize in 2019.

This summer, in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, a cartel performed an emergency jet landing and then set fire to the jet on a country road to avoid its seizure. It was detected by the Mexican military after it entered Mexican air space. Not far from the burning narco jet, officials found 13 sacks of cocaine weighing 850 pounds, with an estimated value of US$4.9million.

Burning and abandoned narco jet in Mexico in 2020.

Canada

Despite its small economy and having no corporate head offices, Vancouver, Canada, has a vibrant private jet sector that sustains many private and luxury jets business operators. Private jet trips from Vancouver are often destined for Vegas, Colombia and Mexico.

Using private jets to move proceeds of crime isn’t new. In 2014, a Canadian was indicted in Michigan, arrested and subsequently convicted for money laundering, with and through his American lawyer, using, among other mechanisms, private jets to move bulk cash to the offshore tax havens of Panama and the Bahamas.

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