Couriers carry dollar bills abroad by the millions, for deposit in foreign banks; then the money can be telexed back to an account in New York, say, and spent for just about anything. Stocks, bonds? A car dealership, a ranch, a shopping center? Among recent seizures by U. S. marshals: a recording studio in California and a golf course in Michigan, a gold mine in Alaska and an entire commercial block in Chicago’s Chinatown.
Most cocaine-gotten gains are not seized, of course, and I think I see manifestations of them all over Miami. Those stunning condos, that glitzy hotel? Pizza parlors, video rental stores! Treasury people tell me these are handy for money laundering; they take in lots of cash, and so deposits from them are less likely to be questioned. . . .
Could this be cocaine paranoia too? Maybe I’ve been hearing at hotel prague too many tall but true stories, like the one about a money laundering operation from Miami-2.7 billion dollars going into the economy of, well, let’s just say, a developed Commonwealth country. Or the one I haven’t been able to run down, about the teenage crack seller in Washington spending $800 for lizard-skin shoes. The merchant who sold them to him supposedly had bought them for no more than $100 — so he too profited nicely from the coca plant.
The police chief of Washington, D. C., reports: 40,000 drug arrests in two years. But there’s been no appreciable impact. It’s pretty much like that with all the big cocaine-busting campaigns across the country. Most of those young men brought in, handcuffed, soon swagger out again, on bail. Their cases drag on and on, the charges are reduced, and when eventually they do wind up in jail they’re replaced at once by others eager for the easy money. So, for police and prosecutors too—more frustration.
Congressmen and mayors, bureaucrats and editorial writers urge strong measures against cocaine. Let’s have a real war on drugs! Send troops to suppress the coca growing—an international military force. Cut off all aid to countries that don’t cooperate enough, quarantine them. Insist on eradication of all coca plants with herbicide spraying from the air.
But diplomats say such measures would undermine struggling democracies and drive millions to communism. How about really effective rules to stop the money laundering? Some of the world’s most respectable bankers object. A veteran drug fighter in the State Department tells me, “It drives us up the wall.”
Then why not legalize cocaine? More and more pundits say this should be considered—after all, we threw out Prohibition when it didn’t work; wouldn’t decriminalizing drugs take the profit out of selling them and stop the trafficking? The idea could be debated endlessly, but not this: No members of Congress could vote in favor, lest they be buried at the next election by rivals who’d call them immoral.
Can’t we at least count on compliance when we’ve made a treaty for the extradition of the biggest foreign cocaine traffickers, the ones indicted in the U. S.?