"That guy should be making half a million dollars or more," said Rijock, author of "The Laundry Man," who since serving a federal prison sentence has trained law enforcement agents and banking officials in money laundering detection.
"In the world of money laundering you're only limited by your imagination," he said. "And what money launderers do is they stay up nights and weekends just to find new targets of opportunity."
Any business from perfume to race horses has potential to be a front for organized crime. Some are natural fits, such as art and antiques where people are private about transactions, willing to accept cash and don't keep good records for tax purposes. A few recent cases include:
— In January, a New York federal judge sentenced a Laredo-based perfume impresario to nearly 20 years in prison for conspiring to launder millions for the Sinaloa cartel. Vikram Datta sold large shipments of perfume to Mexican buyers and was paid with drug proceeds that had been first run through currency exchanges in Mexico at a steep discount.
— The following month, a federal grand jury in San Antonio indicted Antonio Pena Arguelles on money laundering charges alleging that since 2000 he invested drug profits in the U.S. for the Gulf cartel and Zetas. He has pleaded not guilty. Documents also name him as the conduit between the cartels and payments to Mexican politicians, including a former governor, for influence and protection.
The recent run of cases doesn't signal a change in tactics, but rather the natural arc of complex criminal investigations that begin by busting a load of cocaine on a Texas highway or getting a tip from a bank.
"If we can actually find out how the money is being moved and disrupt a major source of it, that hurts," Leff said. "It cripples the cartels themselves."