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Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007

Illicit Finance

Drug traffickers throughout the United States use the Nevada HIDTA region to launder illicit drug proceeds because of the area's proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and the area's gaming and entertainment industries. Mexican DTOs transport bulk cash shipments or electronically wire drug proceeds from drug markets throughout the nation--particularly in the East, the Great Lakes area, the Midwest, and Hawaii--to the HIDTA region for consolidation. Moreover, some HIDTA-based Mexican DTOs that supply distributors in Hawaii transport drug proceeds to Las Vegas from Hawaii in containerized cargo shipments of automobiles packed with cash proceeds. After drug proceeds are consolidated, Mexican DTOs smuggle them in bulk across the U.S.-Mexico border for eventual repatriation. Illicit drug proceeds are generally transported in private and commercial vehicles through the U.S.-Mexico border POEs nearest the HIDTA region. Additionally, Mexican DTOs transship drug proceeds from markets in other states through the HIDTA region along I-15 en route to southern California and Mexico.

The attractions that draw tourists to Las Vegas and Reno afford drug traffickers a venue through which they may attempt to mask the origin of their illicit drug proceeds. Casinos and businesses that provide entertainment and services to the tourist population are often exploited by traffickers for money laundering purposes. Traffickers exchange illicit cash proceeds for casino chips, hold them for a period of time, and later cash them in for a casino check or have the casino wire the money elsewhere. Traffickers also use the chips to gamble in hopes of generating certifiable winnings to make their illicit funds appear to be legitimate gambling winnings.

Additionally, traffickers often launder drug proceeds through cash-intensive businesses, such as limousine services, motels, nightclubs, restaurants, strip clubs, and tour providers, by commingling drug proceeds with legitimate funds generated at the businesses. Traffickers also use money services businesses (MSBs), primarily money remitters, to move drug proceeds from the HIDTA region to accounts established at other domestic or international locations.

Nevada HIDTA officials report that some Hispanic traffickers also use drug proceeds to purchase real estate in Clark County. For instance, in January 2007 the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Nevada announced the sentencing of the leader of a local Hispanic cocaine trafficking ring that had been distributing multikilogram quantities of cocaine in the Las Vegas area. The leader was sentenced on several drug-related charges, including laundering drug proceeds by purchasing homes through a front company in the names of family members.

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