Seattle and King County officials have stopped several migrants with suitcases full of American dollars leaving the United States.
All of the suspects carrying the suitcases full of cash were on welfare.
Travelers pulling suitcases full of cash started showing up at Sea-Tac Airport last year holding tickets for flights headed out of the United States.
Transporting large amounts of cash overseas isn’t illegal. But it was who was carrying the money … and where it was going that caught the attention of security officials.
“It’s not against the law. You can travel outside the United States with as much money as you choose, as long as you declare it,” said Mike Bol, who heads U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at the airport.
The people carrying the cash didn’t hide the fact from Customs. Just the opposite, they reported it. Anyone traveling out of the United States is required to declare any amount over $10,000 and fill out a one-page federal form.
These reports are what caught the attention of terrorism investigators in Seattle…
…Seattle and King County are home to tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees from East Africa, many of whom use the hawalas to send much-needed money back to loved ones in their homelands. Given the presence of active terrorist organizations in Somalia, investigators worry that some of the money shipped home by Somalis up in the hands of the Al Qaeda affiliate active there.
“(They) have Al Shabaab, which has been designated a terrorist organization, and our concern is how much money is going to them?” said Kerns.
Kerns said the first cash shipment rolled through Sea-Tac early last year. A man carrying $750,000 in cash told Customs officials he was transporting the money overseas. Over the next several months, couriers carrying as much as $2 million boarded commercial flights at Sea-Tac.
“One hawala – Seattle hawala – sent out $20 million last year,” said Kerns…
…Kerns was a Seattle police officer who retired last December after serving 14 years on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
He uncovered something suspicious when he analyzed financial records that the hawalas are required file with the Washington Department of Financial Institutions.
He researched the names of the ten clients who transferred the most money through hawalas last year.
“All ten of them were on welfare benefits. DSHS benefits,” said Kerns. “It’s fraud. Straight up fraud – every one of them.”
Kerns said he, along with an agent from a federal agency he would not disclose, took their case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
“They don’t want to touch it,” said Kerns. “My opinion – I believe it’s because it will look like they’re targeting a certain population.”