January 18, 2021

DOJ settles civil forfeiture suits involving funds laundered through the Black Market Peso Exchange

On January 12, 2021, the Active US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in conjunction with members of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, announced that a settlement was reached in a civil forfeiture action against Sefira Capital LLC, a Florida-based boutique investment company, and 31 of Sefira’s subsidiary corporations, that own high-end office buildings and residential real estate throughout the US.  The stipulation and order is intended to resolve US Department of Justice allegations, that the defendant corporations accepted millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds as investments in real estate ventures, that were laundered through the Black Market Peso Exchange, a well-known shadow financial system.  Under the settlement, Sefira and its subsidiaries agreed to forfeit a total of $29 million, that includes almost $22.5 million in previously seized real estate, and a $6.5 million payment made in lieu of forfeiting certain real estate interests.  Sefira also agreed to conduct due diligence checks on all of its future investors and only accept investment funds from actual investors, as part of the settlement.

In a related civil forfeiture action, a Judgment of Forfeiture was issued by the same court against Hampus Assets, Inc. and Kaunas Assets Corp., also accused by the DOJ of accepting millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds laundered through the Black Market Peso Exchange.  The government seized $23.2 million from Hampus and Kaunas as part of its settlement, and requested that the companies conduct due diligence on all future deposits into accounts under their control.  The companies also agreed not to engage in certain cross-border money transfers, as part of the settlement.

The DOJ reports that the Black Market Peso Exchange enabled drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to transfer illicit funds from the US to the countries in which they operated, while disguising the true nature of the funds.  The scheme involved DTOs that amassed bulk US currency from their US drug operations, and sold the currency at a discount to money-laundering brokers, who deposited the US-based bulk cash into US shell accounts, while paying the drug traffickers for the cash in their local currency.  At the same time, the brokers purchased bulk amounts of the drug traffickers’ local currency from individuals in the DTO’s home-country who wished to transfer money to the US while circumventing the US banking system.  The brokers paid for the local currency by transferring drug proceeds from the US-based shell accounts, to accounts controlled by the individuals.

According to the DOJ complaint, illicit proceeds were invested in Sefira Properties from 2016 to 2019, while Sefira willfully ignored red flags such as discrepancies in investment amounts and account names.  Similarly, between 2018 and early 2019, the DOJ accused Hampus of receiving millions of dollars in large wire deposits sent in rapid succession from a shell company, that were ultimately used to transfer narcotics proceeds on the Black Market Peso Exchange.  According to the complaint, in October 2018, Hampus transferred a portion of the illegal proceeds to Kaunas.

DOJ Press Release | Sefira Complaint | Stipulation and Order | Hampus and Kaunas Complaint | Judgment of Forfeiture