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Feds Warn of Cartel Money Laundering Scheme in South Texas

HARLINGEN, Texas — Mexican drug cartels have been buying and selling counterfeit goods at flea markets and small stores as a way to launder their drug proceeds, federal agents said. As Halloween celebrations approach, authorities are warning about certain counterfeit goods that could pose a health risk to unsuspecting customers.

“Transnational criminal organizations have been trading in counterfeit goods in order to launder their money,” said Ed Hurtado, a Supervisory Special Agent with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations during an interview with Breitbart Texas.  

The TCO’s (government term for drug cartels) use “dirty” drug proceeds to buy counterfeit products from countries like China or the Philippines, Hurtado said. Once the goods are in the U.S., the criminal groups sell the products and then are able to use the proceeds from the sale of the counterfeit goods as a way to hide the true nature of the funds.

During the month of October, HSI agents have been working to address the increase of counterfeit color contact lenses and make-up showing up at local flea markets. Part of the effort deals with raising awareness about the possible health hazards presented by the counterfeit goods which become popular as part of costumes for Halloween parties.

“Contact lenses are considered medical devices and as such only a medical professional can get you a prescription for them,” Hurtado said. “These items are sold without prescription and at prices much lower than their retail price … If the price is too good to be true, it often is.”

According to HSI, make-up or contact lenses are made in China or other countries that do not have the same health standards and regulations as U.S. factories. In the saline solution that the contact lenses come in, authorities have found bacteria, while in the seized make-up authorities have found carcinogens.

“At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, is this something that you want your mother, your wife, or your daughter being exposed to,” Hurtado said.

Ildefonso Ortiz is an award winning journalist with Breitbart Texas. He co-founded the Cartel Chronicles project and you can follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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