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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Sponsors Legislation to Support Law Enforcement Efforts in Combatting Transnational Crime

Monday, February 23, 2015
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced her sponsorship of two bills that will help provide enhanced support to law enforcement agencies in their investigations of transnational criminal organizations.

Transnational criminal organizations have made California the single biggest point of entry for methamphetamine into the United States, with 70% entering through the San Diego Port of Entry. These organizations transfer billions of dollars out of the U.S. through California. As much as $40 billion in illicit funds were laundered in the state in 2012, according to Attorney General Harris’ 2014 report, Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime.

“Transnational criminal organizations rely on a steady flow of billions of dollars in laundered money to support their operations,” Attorney General Harris said.  “The legislation I am sponsoring will equip local and state law enforcement with more tools to target their illicit profits and dismantle these dangerous organizations.” 

Senate Bill 298  (Block, D-San Diego) would add money laundering to the list of predicate offenses for wiretapping under Penal Code  629.52 if the money laundering is associated with a organized criminal group and the value of the transactions exceeds $50,000. Currently, the existing wiretap statute only applies to drug trafficking, human trafficking and street gang felonies – which all have a direct nexus to transnational criminal organizations. This bill would allow law enforcement to utilize wiretaps to investigate financial fraud, allowing them to target the financial pipeline that sustains the operations of transnational criminal organizations. 

“If money is the root of all evil, then money laundering is the insidious offshoot,” said State Senator Marty Block. “Money laundering camouflages the profit from heinous crimes such as human and weapons trafficking and allows criminals to profit from and expand their operations. SB 298 hands law enforcement another tool to fight the most grievous crimes they face.” 

Assembly Bill 443 (Alejo, D-Salinas) would allow for the preservation of criminal assets before charges are filed under the following circumstances:

  • at least $10,000 is at stake
  • the judge finds a substantial probability that charges will be filed and the government will prevail
  • the proceeds will otherwise be destroyed or made unavailable
  • the need to preserve outweighs any hardship of the party impacted.

AB 443 addresses the gap in law that prevents prosecutors from freezing criminal proceeds prior to an indictment being filed, leading to criminal organizations disposing of these assets once a charge has been brought against them. The bill will allow prosecutors to effectively disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and other sophisticated criminal profiteers.

“Gang violence and crime continue to be serious problems across the state, and we must take steps to diminish the grip they have on many of our most disadvantaged communities,” said Assemblyman Alejo.  “Many of these organizations are operating in cities that I represent - Salinas, Watsonville, Soledad and King City. They use our kids as pawns, many of whom wind up in jail or dead, and they do this all to make a profit.   By freezing the assets of criminal organizations, we hit them where it hurts most, and we can put a halt to their operations.”

In March 2014, Attorney General Harris issued “Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime,” the first comprehensive report analyzing the current state of transnational criminal organizations in California. The report is the first comprehensive report analyzing the current state of transnational criminal organizations in California and the threats they pose to the state’s public safety and economy.

The report also outlined recommendations to address this problem, which include increased funding for state anti-narcotics trafficking task forces and additional coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in combatting transnational criminal organizations. The report is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/transnational-organized-crime.

Following the release of this report, Attorney General Harris led a delegation of state attorneys general to Mexico to strengthen working relationships between the governments of both countries and enhance efforts to combat transnational crime. The delegation met with Mexican state attorneys general and federal officials to discuss the issues of drug, human and firearms trafficking, money laundering and high-tech crime.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the four other state attorneys general also signed a letter of intent with the National Banking and Securities Commission of Mexico to establish a bi-national working group on money laundering enforcement. 

In October 2014, Attorney General Harris announced the creation of a new anti-methamphetamine team of Special Agents based Los Angeles funded by a $1 million federal grant. The team will be comprised of six Special Agents assigned to investigate illicit activities related to the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine in California and will work in a coordinated effort with the other 18 existing California Department of Justice task forces. 

Over the past four years, California Department of Justice special agents have seized over $200 million in cash, 10,000 kilos of cocaine, 12,000 pounds of methamphetamine, and taken nearly 12,000 illegal guns off the streets in California.

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