Last Thursday, Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District in Manhattan, filed a complaint in Federal Court against a number of Lebanese banking institutions, money exchange companies and 30 used car dealers in the US found to be engaged in laundering drug money for Hizbullah in a cash for cars scheme that netted more than $300 million in profits. The complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks nearly half a billion dollars in penalties from the laundered drug proceeds and seized assets from the groups involved in this criminal terrorist enterprise.
Fox News noted the international scope of the scheme in an initial report, “Prosecutors Say Hizbullah Laundered Millions of Dollars into The US”:
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the civil case brought Thursday reveals a massive international scheme in which Lebanese financial institutions, including banks and two exchange houses linked to Hizbullah, passed money through the U.S. financial system to launder narcotics trafficking and other criminal proceeds through West Africa and back into Lebanon.
The government said substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hizbullah, which has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization since 1997.
"The intricate scheme laid out in today's complaint reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism," Bharara said. "Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents."
One of the 30 car dealers listed in the compliant was Cedar Exports & Auto Sales, Inc. (Cedar) of Mt. Juliet in Wilson County, Tennessee. A check with the regional Better Business Bureau (BBB) revealed, that the BBB gave the concern an A rating. Cedar has made annual corporation filings with the Tennessee Secretary of State listing its office at 7877 Eastgate Blvd. in Mt Juliet. There are a number of used car dealerships in Middle Tennessee owned by Middle Eastern principals, some which have no demonstrable inventory for local sales. Presumably they are involved in the wholesaling of cars purchased at auction and then sold for transport into the world markets. Could these have been involved in the Hizbullah or unrelated funneling schemes?
How profitable was the laundering of drug money in the cash for cars scam involving groups in Nigeria and Benin in West Africa and Lebanon? The short answer is very.
Tampa, Florida Private Investigator. Bill Warner, who has been following this scam since 2002, described how it operated in a post on his blog, “DEA Complaint Names 30 Used Car Dealers In the USA Who Laundered Millions in Drug Money For Hizbullah By Sending Cars to West Africa, See List”:
Since March of 2004, I was aware of the "cars for cash scam" whereby used car dealers in the USA were buying vehicles with dirty money and sending the used cars to West Africa (Nigeria), Dubai UAE and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for resale. Federal law enforcement officers with the Bureau of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Secret Service and Federal Officers at the Port of Tampa, all started investigations into the "cars for cash scam", all were shut down by the FBI who took over the investigations when it appeared to be a support of terrorism case.
The current "Civil Complaint" filed against the 30 used car dealers in the USA, charged with laundering money for the terrorist group Hizbullah, is a DEA Action as per DEA Special Agent Christopher Miller, not the FBI, the FBI always takes over any investigation when it is linked to terrorism, so what's up?
Used cars were purchased at auction in the Tampa area with drug money supplied by the terrorist organization Hizbullah, see COMPLAINT CLICK HERE. The used car dealers would buy a late model SUV for $15,000 at the auto auction in Tampa, pay $1,200 to have it shipped to one of the Free Trade Ports listed above and then with the help of a counterpart at one of the Free trade Ports sell the vehicle for $29,000 (or more), making $12,800 and cleaning the $15,000 in drug money. Sweet deal, especially if you multiply this transaction by 30 used car dealers who would send at least 10 cars a month. That is $3,840,000 in profit alone while laundering $4,500,000 a month in drug money.
As noted by Tampa investigator Warner, it has taken the government several years to uncover and document the cash for cars drug money laundering scheme that netted sizable profits for terrorist group Hizbullah. In the case of the Cedar firm and its principals in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, the issue is how long has this been going on under the nose of the Tennessee Joint Terrorism Task Force. Whether other Tennessee car lot dealers are involved is yet to be discovered.