Money Laundering Inside the U.S.
With all the attention on foreign money laundering, we’re ignoring the problem in our own country.
How widespread is the problem? No one really knows for sure because the states “have no idea who is behind the companies they have incorporated,” says Senator Carl Levin (D–Mich.), who is trying to force the states to insist on greater transparency. “The United States should never be the situs of choice for international crime, but that is exactly what the lax regulatory regimes in some of our states are inviting.” The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the U.S. Treasury bureau investigating money laundering, says roughly $14 billion worth of suspicious transactions involving private U.S. shells and overseas bank accounts came in from banks from 2004 to 2005, the latest Treasury data available. That’s up from $4 billion for the long stretch between April 1996 and January 2004. Now, estimates the FBI, anonymously held U.S. shell companies have laundered $36 billion to date just from the former Soviet Union.
State governments provide plenty of cover for bad guys. Every year they incorporate 1.9 million or so private companies, but no state verifies or records the identities of owners, much less screens ownership information against criminal watch lists, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office. “You have to supply more information to get a driver’s license than you do to form one of these nonpublicly traded corporations,” says Senator Levin.