It is not a well kept secret that the U.S. government, mainly the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), engages in undercover operations in order to take down alleged drug traffickers in foreign countries. But what may be less well known is the fact that the DEA launders millions of dollars into the drug trafficking operations of Mexico.

With the recent increase of drug related violence in Mexico over the past several years, the U.S. government has taken a more active role in the surveillance and investigative efforts into the Mexican drug cartels. The question remains, how far is too far? Should it be considered a legitimate effort by government resources when it engages in money laundering between the United States and Mexico?

The DEA doesn’t call it money laundering, of course. Rather, from their perspective, it is a “mission driven” initiative where the ends justify the means. That argument may be persuasive, but the facts to substantiate this claim seem to lack sufficiency in the big scheme of things in the drug world. The Mexican cartels’ profits can be anywhere from $18 to $39 billion dollars per year. Yet last year the U.S. government seized only an estimated $1 billion in cash and drug assets. This may seem like a lot, but when you factor into the equation the amount of violence associated with these cartels in addition to the fact that money is at the center of all cartel operations, the DEA’s facilitation becomes questionable.

The issue of how the money is being monitored is also an elusive practice. The DEA does not disclose how it monitors and tracks the laundered money, arguing that it would jeopardize the investigations. Yet the money travels back and forth, in and out of the U.S. financial system. With such a volatile economy as it is, one must only hope that the U.S. government knows what its doing. But as previous flounders have indicated, such as when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of hundreds of weapons into the cartels, the government is not perfect. Only time will tell whether this undercover initiative will reap more benefits than its losses.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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