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MEXICO: Billions in cash drug profits flow in annually, study finds

June 3, 2010 |  4:55 pm

Between $19 billion and $29 billion year — a "breathtaking" sum — is smuggled into Mexico from the United States by drug cartels, a new U.S.-Mexican study finds. Most of the cash goes undetected as it heads south in relatively small amounts to then fund the various criminal activities of cartels, said John Morton, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assistant secretary, according to a report by the L.A. Times.

Attacking the flow of cash drug profits heading south is difficult once it reaches Mexico because 75% of business in the country is done in cash, as opposed to just 20% in the U.S.

The report was not made available to the public but instead released at a small news conference with Morton and Carlos Pascual, the U.S. ambassador in Mexico. Audio from the news conference was made available to The Times through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

Correspondent Tracy Wilkinson adds:

The cash is brought into Mexico both in amounts small enough for an individual to carry and in amounts large enough to fill shipping containers. Revenue from local dealing operations across the U.S. is first consolidated in cities that serve as "collection points," including Los Angeles, then moved to the border and broken up again for the cross-border leg of the transport.

The money is used to bribe police and politicians, supply cartels with weapons, pay suppliers in South America, and feed the lavish lifestyles of many drug lords.

In January, a Reuters story detailed how the cash is handled once it crosses into Mexico. Smugglers take cash to safe houses where mostly women and girls count the bills, watched over by gunpoint.

"Sometimes the cash is coming in so fast we can hardly deal with it," a trafficker in Tijuana reportedly told the news agency. "We have hours and hours and sometimes days and days just counting money."

— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City