Recently, federal authorities investigated the use of the international banking group HSBC by a group of NYC men accused of trafficking in drugs. The men were additionally accused of laundering money, and the investigation ultimately resulted in a $1.9 billion settlement between the bank and the federal government.

According to reports, a group of men of Colombian origin residing in New York took advantage of the lack of oversight within the bank to run a money-laundering ring for drug traffickers. In addition to drug charges, the alleged ring leader of the operation was charged with conspiracy to launder money.

The operation was based around drug dealers selling illicit drugs in the U.S. and routing the money back to Mexico, where the cash was then deposited into bank accounts in HSBC’s Mexico division. Authorities say the ring leader then used the accounts with HSBC to wire funds to businesses, which in turn purchased goods that would be sold to South American businesses to produce “clean cash” for the drug cartels.

The members of the laundering ring were able to use the bank’s lax oversight and security to their advantage in procuring funds for the drug cartels. In this way, this case has an element of white collar crime to it.

The alleged ringleader of the operation faces between 15 to 18 years in prison. Drug trafficking is an offense that is typically punished by both state and federal authorities, and the severity of the punishment depends on the geographic distribution of the drugs, the drug type and amount, and whether or not the drug was sold to minors.

Because drug crimes — and drug trafficking, in particular — are punished harshly by authorities, it is fortunate that defendants in these cases are entitled to an aggressive criminal defense. They have the right to have evidence of contraband excluded if it is found to be the product of an illegal search or seizure. Anyone accused of drug trafficking is entitled to take the proper legal steps to defend their reputation and freedom.

Source: The Fiscal Times, “How Drug Traffickers Used HSBC to Launder Money,” Jan. 2, 2013