Published March 24, 2003
WASHINGTON – Federal agents cracking down on terrorist financing schemes raided several businesses and made multiple arrests this week, Fox News has learned.
During the past 72 hours, Operation Green Quest — the multi-agency terrorist financial crimes task force — arrested nine individuals, executed nine search warrants and 10 seizure warrants, and seized roughly $120,000 in California, Minnesota, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, officials said.
Authorities said while none of those who were arrested over the last three days are being charged with being terrorists, the schemes they used and the countries they were involved with have been "exploited by terrorist organizations."
The arrests and seizures were the result of separate investigations by Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Secret Service, Naval Intelligence Service and the Coast Guard among others. The operation, which originated in the Treasury Department, is now being coordinated by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Department of Homeland Security.
"By dismantling these illegal networks, we are denying avenues for terrorist groups to raise and move funds in this country," said Michael Garcia, a top official with ICE.
In Los Angeles on Friday morning, agents arrested one individual and executed search warrants on his business and residence in connection with allegations that he had illegally structured financial transactions to evade federal reporting requirements.
Authorities intercepted more than 270 money orders totaling nearly $136,000 that the individual was allegedly shipping to Beirut via private parcels.
Thursday night in New York City, four individuals were arrested and $71,400 in currency was seized by agents working with the FBI. Multiple bank seizure warrants were issued as well as a search warrant in connection with an investigation into a Pakistani money remittance business.
Authorities said an 18-month undercover operation showed a business named Manhattan Foreign Exchange moved $33 million to Pakistan. The money was said to be from illegal narcotics.
The owner of Manhattan Foreign Exchange, Shaheen Khalid Butt, was charged with money laundering, currency reporting, conspiracy and immigration fraud charges.
Authorities said law enforcers used electronic surveillance to show that Butt and his unlicensed business "received frequent cash deliveries, tens of thousands of dollars at a time, from various people," U.S. Attorney James B. Comey said.
Thursday morning, operation agents working with agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the IRS arrested four people, and executed search warrants on five tobacco stores and one residence in Minnesota, where they seized multiple records on tobacco stamp fraud and money smuggling to Lebanon and Jordan. Agents also served seizure warrants on eight bank accounts and two vehicles.
In one instance, agents discovered nearly $157,000 in cashier's checks sewn into the lining of a handbag that was to be brought aboard a flight destined for Lebanon, officials said.
On Wednesday, agents seized more than $48,560 from two Newark, N.J., bank accounts, linked to numerous negotiable checks that individuals had attempted to smuggle to parties in Yemen via private express parcels.
Also on Wednesday, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan issued a superceding indictment accusing Omar Shishani of conspiracy to distribute and manufacture counterfeit securities, possession of counterfeit securities, and smuggling. Two other individuals were indicted on conspiracy charges.
Operation Green Quest was formed shortly after Sept. 11 to shut down illegal financial systems in the United States that have been exploited by terrorist groups and continue to be particularly vulnerable to such exploitation today, Garcia said.
To date, the task force has arrested 93 people and seized $11 million said to have been involved in terrorist financing operations. It has seized $24 million more in smuggled cash, most headed to countries with terrorist problems, officials said.
Green Quest has several hundred ongoing investigations.
Fox News' Anna Stolley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.