For more than 20 years, Phoenix police Lt. Vince Piano has investigated the funding of organized crime. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -
A policy allowing people who aren't living in this country and aren't U.S. citizens to work in Arizona prisons may have helped some corrections officers launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for the drug cartels, and chances are they will never be punished for it.
Last week, five Arizona Department of Corrections officers at the prison in Douglas were accused of laundering money by funneling it into Mexico. Three of the officers resigned July 24. They were identified as Jesus Andrade, Laura Pedroza and Anna Saiz.
For more than 20 years, Phoenix police Lt. Vince Piano has investigated the funding of organized crime.
In fact, he confirmed to CBS 5 News that some of the corrections officers his task force has accused of money laundering live in Mexico, and because of that, they might never be punished or even charged.
Cartels are paying people to open bank accounts on the Arizona side of the border, but the cartel has the account numbers and the control, investigators told CBS 5 News. Then dozens of runners and lookouts, stuff bags full of criminal cash, and get in line at the border.
They are so brazen, they even declare the money to customs officials, and because U.S. banks are more lax than those in Mexico, the runners deposit the cash into the phantom accounts, convert it into pesos and wire it right back to Mexican banks, Piano said.
Piano said he catches the runners all the time, but most prosecutors tell him to give back the cash and let the suspect go, he said. Money laundering in and of itself isn't a big enough crime to prompt arrest or extradition.
Millions of dollars flood across the border weekly that is directly related to violence and drugs, and current laws just let it happen in plain sight, Piano said.
Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was particularly disturbed by the recently accused corrections officers who were allowed to live across the border.
Cartels watch the money laundering suspects, with unlimited cash for bribes, or worse, no hesitation for threats, investigators said.
Officials with the Department of Corrections were quick to point out that any money laundering its corrections officers may have done happened outside of the prison facility.
As far as the state detention officers being allowed to be foreign nationals, some even living in Mexico, the Arizona Department of Corrections is currently standing by its hiring practices.
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