By Joe Burke
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bulk Cash Smuggling Center Unit Chief
The old adage “money talks” has another meaning since U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened the Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC) in late 2009. The BCSC’s goal is to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that use bulk cash smuggling (BCS) to move their illicit funds. Seizing the cash disrupts the criminal or terrorist organization and often provides invaluable intelligence about the organization as a whole. Changing the way local law enforcement agencies think about and react when they discover such funds is an important element in meeting that goal.
Local officers might uncover illicit cash during a traffic stop, at an airport inspection, incident to an arrest or during some other enforcement scenario. Timely calls to the BCSC in any of these situations, during or after a seizure, can significantly benefit the enforcement outcome.
Once a call to the BCSC is made, an officer and his unit have the resources and support of an international law enforcement organization. Without BCSC support, a routine traffic stop in which bulk cash is discovered could end with little result. Indeed, the officer may otherwise have no basis to detain the driver or to seize the illicit currency.
Using available BCS statutes, federal charges can be levied against a driver/courier, enabling longer detention of the subject and ultimately affording law enforcement more time to determine the existence of other criminal associates. Local law enforcement may otherwise have no method to determine if the funds they discovered relate to criminal activities nearby or if the driver/courier was merely transiting the area. Placing the seizure in geographical context significantly benefits all levels of law enforcement.
Regardless of the circumstances, information from any seizure can be incorporated into vital databases. This potentially gives the tactical intelligence and financial investigative experts at the BCSC another piece of the puzzle to help them follow the money trail. A seizure is investigated for all possible links and coordinated into critical intelligence. The intelligence information developed could have a significant impact on other investigations. With each puzzle piece a bigger picture is clarified and refined. The end result can lead to the disruption or dismantling of a criminal organization, terrorist cell or other nefarious operation.
At the outset of an unexpected seizure, it’s often impossible to know the source, the destination or the intended use of the illegal funds. The BCSC connects the incident to other information and creates the invaluable bigger picture that assists in unraveling the larger criminal enterprise. Coordinating information and building that bigger picture is the reason ICE established the BCSC at the ICE Law Enforcement Support Center in Williston, Vt.
Additionally, the BCSC can assist law enforcement agencies when they become aware of possible bulk cash smuggling or money laundering operations while investigating other crimes. By contacting the BCSC, law enforcement agencies have 24/7 access to real-time information including analysis and interpretation by dedicated financial experts. The quick response of the BCSC enhances law enforcement’s capability to take aggressive action at the outset of an incident. This can have a significant impact on the ensuing investigation.
The BCSC can also assist other law enforcement agencies by providing equipment, technical training and expertise, and coordination of additional manpower related to BCS interdiction operations. Furthermore, by contacting the BCSC, law enforcement agencies may participate in equitable sharing arrangements from assets seized as a result of BCS investigations. Whether an agency is actively participating in the ensuing investigation or not, any subsequent seizures based on the initial information will further benefit the agency.
Law enforcement agencies can request real-time tactical support during an enforcement action where illicit cash is suspected by phoning the center at 866/981-5332. The BCSC can also be reached 802/872-6220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org during normal business hours.