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Most emblematic U.S. money laundering cases and how to avoid AML risks

written by Thomas Johnson, On January 20, 2023


Money laundering is one of the most common financial crimes that cause great concern to business owners today.

Today in Pirani, we tell you everything you need to know about this crime; answer: what is money laundering, we mention some of the most emblematic money laundering examples in the United States, and most importantly, we give you some tips to reduce the risk of money laundering within your company. 

Let's get started!

What is money laundering? 

Money laundering is a crime involving disguising or attempting to conceal the illicit origin of the funds obtained. To make this money laundering definition more practical and understandable, we will illustrate it better. A person has obtained money through criminal activities (fraud, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, terrorism, etc.) and then injects these funds into the formal market. How does he do this? He buys properties, vehicles, companies, etc., thus transforming their origin into a legal one.

In this way, the money launderer circumvents and manipulates the country's financial system to introduce and spend ill-gotten gains. 

Now let's see the most famous cases in the US!

The four most prominent money laundering examples in the USA

To help you visualize the impact of this crime, today we present a chronological account of the four most prominent money laundering examples in the United States that have inspired successful television series. Discover how this has been one of the most frequent crimes since the beginning of the 20th century.

Let's dive in! 

1. Chicago, 1920: Al Capone 

If the famous mobster of the 1920s used the money he made from the illicit sale of liquor during the Prohibition era and prostitution, he invested it in buying local businesses and opening multiple laundromats in the area to keep his money very clean. 

The Al Capone case is not only one of the quintessential money laundering examples, but it is said to be the originator of the term. Undoubtedly this served as inspiration for the character of Walter White in the famous series Breaking Bad, who laundered his money in a carwash.

Curious fact: However, by the 1920s, the crime of money laundering was not regulated in the United States, so the authorities had to condemn it as tax evasion. It was not until 1980 that the first federal regulations emerged, offering a money laundering definition.

2. North Carolina, 2010: Wachovia Bank 

Wachovia Bank was one of the oldest financial institutions in the United States, created in 1898, which allowed the management of assets, mortgage loans, brokerage, investment, etc. In 2008 this company was acquired by Wells Fargo. However, two years later, the government discovered that between 2004 and 2007, Wachovia helped multiple drug cartels in Mexico to launder more than $378 billion in its different branches and then used money exchange houses in Mexico to deposit the money in Mexican banks. 

A 2006 report revealed that this bank helped the terrorist organization Hezbollah launder money in suspicious transactions and refused to abide by government regulations.

3. Manhattan, 2006: Arthur Budovsky

The case of Liberty Reserve was an online payment processor where users only had to register online with their name, date of birth, and email address, and their accounts were ready to make transactions.

Most "account holders" used their cash to acquire digital currencies offered by the same platform in an immediate transaction. In this case, the company deliberately ignored the strict mechanisms required to verify the identity of the "clients" and the origin of the assets. 

4. New York, 2012: Standard Chartered Bank 

BSC is a financial institution of British origin based in New York that the Federal Reserve heavily scrutinized for poorly implementing Anti-Money Laundering (AML) practices. This bank ignored the sanctions imposed by the government against Iran and continuously worked with and received money from Iran. 

By 2012 the Department of Financial Services (DFS) formally charged the institution with helping to launder nearly $265 billion from Iranian businesses. By 2019 the bank was still ignoring AML regulations and assisting companies from countries such as Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Syria.   

How to prevent money laundering?
3 Expert Tips 

  1. Incorporate appropriate technological solutions.
    At Pirani, we recommend our clients take advantage of all the benefits offered by new technologies, biometric recognition tools, digitization of documentation, and the implementation of electronic signatures.
    This allows them to create a faster and more secure customer knowledge-based new account entry process. 

  2. Implement data analytics tools.
    Data analytics solutions based on AML help detect common patterns, in a specific area, with a product or customer, allowing for detection and classifying potential risks.

  3. Consulting with legal experts.
    Each company must have specialized legal advice to be up to date with innovations in federal regulations governing money laundering; in the last decade, new laws and practices have been added that regulate online monetary exchanges. However, other operations, known as those made with cryptocurrencies, are vulnerable activities or have no regulation. 


Establish robust cybersecurity protocols.

One of the key points to avoid money laundering is that companies have optimal cybersecurity tools that allow them to segment and qualify the accounts they manage in their institutions. This way, they can process each alert, rule out false positives, and expand searches in the shortest amount of time.


Protect your business! Money laundering is a crime that frequently occurs in the United States and is strictly punished by the authorities. Its existence demands that business owners implement more comprehensive identity and source of funds verification practices to avoid this risk and possible penalties. 

At Pirani, we know that money laundering is a latent risk for all types of businesses, which requires them to apply efficient security policies, implement the latest cybersecurity measures, and keep up to date with the regulations of the countries where they operate. 

Did you like this article, or would you like to know more? 

Let us know in the comments!

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