An international drug-money laundering operation--so brazen that prosecutors charge it used lawyers, rabbis, a diplomat, and a police officer who reportedly stored close to $1 million in his precinct locker--was broken up Wednesday after raids in New York, Florida, Colombia, Europe and Los Angeles.
Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan--where the indictments of 23 defendants were unsealed--said the ring used couriers and cooperative bank officials to launder tens of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds in the past year.
Federal agents photographed some of the alleged couriers carrying cash in boxes and duffel bags to a Citibank branch in the Bronx, where an assistant manager was charged with aiding the operation by depositing the cash and then wiring the deposits to accounts in Europe and elsewhere.
"The significance of the scheme is the number of professionals involved," White said. "It is white-collar crime at its worst."
"Rabbi, police officer, hospital administrator, attorney, honorary consul general--it sounds like a list of professions one would aspire (to)," said William A. Gavin, deputy assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office. "Money became the narcotic. Even people in respectable professions yielded and succumbed to temptation."
Among those arrested after the 10-month investigation were securities dealer Latchezar Christov, 57, the honorary consul general in Los Angeles for the Republic of Bulgaria, and Donald J. Hayden, 59, also a securities dealer at Laidlaw Equities in Santa Monica.
Court papers charged that Hayden "received large quantities of cash at his office," which was then shipped via Federal Express to other ring members in New York.
Prosecutors charged that Christov worked with Hayden, "receiving cash and shipping it."
The federal complaint described Christov's honorary-consul position as being a part-time employee of Bulgaria and noted that he had immunity "only in connection with official acts" involving diplomacy.
Prosecutors charged that the ring handled drug proceeds for traffickers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and cities throughout Europe. During their investigation, agents seized about $5 million in cash from alleged members of the organization.
White charged that the ring leaders in the United States were: Richard Spence, a former New York City firefighter and a successful businessman; Harvey Weinig, a Manhattan lawyer; and Robert Hirsch, who was Weinig's law partner. Hirsch was arrested separately and has pleaded guilty to money laundering and other charges.
According to the complaint, Spence was responsible for organizing money pickups, depositing large sums of cash into bank accounts and moving the cash to various accounts via wire transfers. Prosecutors said Spence operated a trucking company, a beer distributorship and a home-heating and oil company.
Court papers charged that Weinig's law firm was used to conceal the organization's activities, to engage in banking transactions and to coordinate with bankers and couriers in Europe.
Also charged was Michael Kalanz, a 30-year-old police officer assigned to a precinct in the Bronx. Prosecutors charged Kalanz was "responsible for counting and storing substantial amounts of United States currency and transporting it to banks on behalf of the organization."
Much of the money was secreted in luggage kept in Kalanz's six-foot precinct locker, which was secured with a padlock.
FBI agents charged that the network of couriers included two rabbis.
FBI agents said a search of the home of Gary Salerno, an alleged courier who works as a hospital administrator, turned up what appeared to be a "hit man's kit"--including weapons, handcuffs and a garrote, a device used to strangle victims.
If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.