Three U.S.-based real estate firms have agreed to turn over more than $50 million to the federal government to resolve allegations claiming they accepted narcotics proceeds through an underground exchange market.
According to the Department of Justice news release, Sefira Capital and more than 30 of its subsidiaries allegedly accepted millions of dollars in drug money laundered through the Black Market Peso Exchange, which it then reinvested in various real estate ventures.
The Black Market Peso Exchange is a long-running money laundering system, favored by Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, that transfers drug proceeds from the U.S. to a drug trafficker’s country of operations while concealing the nature and source of the funds. Traffickers reportedly sell bulk U.S. dollars earned from their operations to so-called “peso brokers” at a discount, who then exchange the dirty money for legitimate local currency.
“The Black Market Peso Exchange facilitates the laundering of vast sums of drug trafficking proceeds generated in the U.S., enabling the conversion of U.S. dollars into the currencies of drug trafficking organizations’ countries,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in the press release announcing the settlement.
Sefira Capital purportedly raised over $100 million in capital from various investors to invest in American real estate projects. From 2016 to 2019, the firm or its subsidiaries allegedly received millions in criminal proceeds from certain investors as part of an effort by drug traffickers to launder their funds through the Black Market Peso Exchange.
Between January 2018 and January 2019, DEA agents reportedly transferred drug money to certain Sefira subsidiaries at the instruction of peso brokers. These funds were wired from DEA undercover accounts that were neither under the control of nor in the name of any particular Sefira investor, sources indicate. Sefira Capital allegedly accepted these funds without checking ownership of the accounts.
Using the results of the DEA investigation into Sefira Capital’s alleged ties to the Black Market Peso Exchange, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed the civil forfeiture action against the investment firm on January 8, 2021.
The real estate firm has agreed to settle the civil forfeiture complaint, according to sources. Under the settlement stipulations, the firm reportedly agreed to forfeit $29 million to resolve the government’s claims.
The settlement follows a similar agreement reached by two other real estate companies, Kaunas Assets and Hampus Assets, which prosecutors said had also handled millions of dollars in drug-trafficking proceeds from the Black Market Peso Exchange. As part of the settlement, all three firms have agreed to conduct reasonable due diligence on future investors, and not to accept investment funds from any source other than the actual investor.
“The forfeiture filings announced today signal not only the surrender of more than $50 million in laundered proceeds, but also the agreement of corporate defendants to exercise due diligence to ensure they are not assisting in or facilitating money laundering,” said Strauss.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that enables prosecutors to seize property (cash, real estate, vehicles, etc.) they suspect is connected to criminal activity, even if the property owner hasn’t been formally charged for any crime. Civil forfeiture action is not unique to corporations and can be taken against anyone. Getting your cash or property back is often a complex process, which is why victims of seizure by police or federal agents should immediately consult a civil asset forfeiture attorney.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.