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Undercover sting operations: a good way to battle crime?

Four individuals, as well as the corporate owners of a convenience store in Baton Rouge have been charged with conspiracy to launder money. The indictment alleges that law enforcement officers conducted a money laundering money laundering sting in which an undercover IRS agent posed as a drug dealer seeking to launder drug proceeds.

The undercover agent, with the assistance of defendants, allegedly used the convenience store to launder $275,000 in drug proceeds through a location in Houston. The indictment also accuses the convenience store owners of charging customers fees for cashing checks, exchanging currency and transferring money from one location to another.

According to the undercover agent, the convenience store owners were made aware they were transferring drug money. In addition, the owners are accused of failing to comply with IRS regulations requiring them to report any cash transaction above $10,000 and any suspicious financial transactions over $2,000.

Sting cases like this are always interesting, particularly from the perspective of how useful they are. Before charges are issued, law enforcement practically creates the conditions for a crime to take place. When the fish bites the bait, charges are issued and a lot of evidence is offered in support of the charges.

While it can be argued that genuine criminal activity has taken place in such stings, it isn't clear whether this approach to crime-busting is actually effective in the long term. Much of the evidence seems to show that such an approach generally does not reduce criminal activity. Which begs the question, is this how we want our money being spent?

Source: The Advocate, "Four indicted for money laundering," Bill Lodge, June 6, 2012.

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