An exclusive, upscale beachfront resort community in Florida became the scene for a major political scandal at the close of 2015. The Tri-County Task Force in the southern Miami area was found guilty of running a massive drug money laundering conspiracy, to the tune of over $70 million.
Police in Bal Harbour and Glades County posed as money launderers for international narcotics dealers and raked in a whopping $71.5 million in “dirty” money used in illegal criminal transactions.
Florida law enforcement officers used fake IDs and set up deals “to pick up cash from criminal organizations in cities across the country. Agents then delivered the money to Miami-Dade storefronts and even wired cash to banks overseas in China and Panama. After laundering the cash, police would skim a three percent commission fee, ultimately generating $2.4 million for themselves.”
Bal Harbour is prime real estate, located at the northern tip of the island commonly referred to as Miami Beach. Detroit industrialists Robert C. Graham, Walter O. Briggs, and Carl G. Fisher, through their Miami Beach Heights Corporation, acquired the 245 acres of partially-submerged swampland and began planning its development during the 1930s.
When World War II erupted, Graham rented the strategic peninsular property to the United States government for a token $1 per year. The military set up training facilities and a prisoner of war camp.
After the war ended in 1945, the government granted the barracks built on the west side of Collins Avenue to Graham. The entrepreneur had the soldiers’ quarters converted into leasable apartments in 1946.
Graham contrived to have 25 families move into his converted apartment homes to qualify legally as a Village that could incorporate as an autonomous municipality. On August 14, 1946, the Village of Bal Harbour was incorporated by Mr. Graham and 25 male registered voters. (The law in 1946 stated that 25 male registered voters must reside in the area.)
From the beginning, Bal Harbour was a planned community, with buried utilities to declutter the skyline and features to attract the world’s celebrities and power elite: tony shops, high-class hotels, and restaurants.
The Bal Harbour Shops were built in 1965. In 2008, the new luxury Regent Bal Harbour hotel opened its doors, followed by the ultra-luxury Oceana at Bal Harbour in 2012 and the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami in 2014, on the site of the former Regent Bal Harbour and ONE Bal Harbour Resort & Spa.
The patriots who founded Bal Harbour were also, regrettably, white supremacists. It took a winning lawsuit in 1984 to force the residents of an exclusive Bal Harbour neighborhood to strike their property ownership clause which banned Jews and Black Americans.
By 2015, Bal Harbour was home to about 2,500 residents. Big money flowed through its streets, and the place became infamous for drug deals and other high-profile criminal activities.
The Bal Harbour police department, in collaboration with the Glades County Sheriff’s Office, started up a sting operation, purportedly to nab international drug traffickers and fight local drug dealing operations.
Instead, after two years in operation and more than $55 million seized from criminal drug groups and ZERO ARRESTS, the 12 police who posed as money launderers made off with $2.4 million. This official, the taxpayer-funded task force charged up significant expenses as they conducted business in Los Angeles, California, New York, and Puerto Rico.
“Along the way, the small-town cops got a taste of luxury as they used the money for first-class flights, luxury hotels, Mac computers, and submachine guns. Meanwhile, the Bal Harbour PD and Glades County Sheriffs were buying all sorts of fancy new equipment,” revealed independent journalist Justin Gardner, writing for the Free Thought Project.
The Miami-Herald newspaper obtained confidential records “show that officers withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars with no record of where the money went.”
Attorney Dennis Fitzgerald, who worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and was an undercover tactics instructor for the U.S. State Department, confirmed that the “Dirty Dozen” were well out of legal and ethical bounds:
“They were like bank robbers with badges. It [the illegal scheme] had no law enforcement objective. The objective was to make money.”
Bal Harbour officials failed to report fully to federal authorities about the corrupt police sting as overseas criminal drug cartels received millions of dollars. To make matters worse, the Florida police officers’ illicit activities interfered with ongoing investigations into known money launderers.
Bal Harbour police records fail to account for cash deposits to SunTrust Bank totaling $28 million.
Chief Tom Hunker of the Bal Harbour Police Department, was quoted from a recorded 2012 Bal Harbour village council meeting during a July 2015 interview on National Public Radio (NPR):
“I want to go after the drug dealers that are here and take them off the street and take the profit out of it. And that’s why I got involved in this task force.”
Hunker declined to comment to NPR after the sting operation was revealed to be an enormous criminal enterprise with him at the helm.
Brian Mulheren, a retired New York City detective and head of the Bal Harbour Citizen’s Coalition, had concerns about the task force. He had seen the small-town cops frequent the expensive Italian restaurant Carpaccio’s and wondered how they could afford it.
Mulheren found evidence that the Bal Harbour police acted as big-time international drug money launderers who “facilitated and allowed these organizations to make money and move money all over the country, all over the world.”
Michael Sallah of the Miami Herald investigated the story and discovered where some of the dirty money was spent:
“We found $400 dinners at Carpaccio’s, a $450 dinner at the Chop House in Chicago, a thousand-dollar dinner at the Morton’s in North Miami Beach. For a unit that was very specifically looking for signs of financial crime, they didn’t spare any expenses in their spending.”
“Government creates a black market of drugs and blood money through prohibition, then under the War on Drugs, it grants itself the power to break the law and get involved in money laundering operations. While the professed goal is to ‘sting’ the bad guys, government rakes in millions upon millions of dollars to further bolster its prohibition and war on drugs,” concluded Gardner.
Especially troubling is the fact that the Florida municipal police squad got help from federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement.