On the wall of his Brickell Avenue offices, Charles A. Intriago keeps a framed copy of a marketing study he commissioned in 1989 to explore the prospects for a newsletter about money laundering. The expert’s recommendation: The prospects for such a venture would be dismal.
Intriago, a former federal prosecutor with an entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for spotting trends, forged ahead anyway. The result was Money Laundering Alert. It blossomed into a lucrative business, including seminars and conferences, and established him as a nationally recognized expert on money laundering and financial crime. His wife, Joy Meason Intriago, a certified public account, came up with the idea of developing certification programs for professionals.
In December 2006, Intriago sold the business, Alert Global Media, to an arm of private-equity giant Warburg Pincus, and he left the firm in March 2008.
Later that year, he launched a new venture devoted to the topic of asset recovery and similarly began publishing news on issues and trends, hosting conferences and providing certification for professionals who master the material.
The level of asset recovery in financial crimes, says Intriago, is “pretty pathetic.”
“If you’re a financial criminal, the likelihood is when you get out of prison, you’re going to have your money where you left it. It does little good to send a guy to jail, or limited good. Get the money back.”
In 2010, Intriago branched out again to focus on issues and trends in the area of e-discovery, which is pushing lawyers away from their beloved mountains of paper files to electronically stored information.
When his non-compete restrictions on money-laundering conferences and certification expired in 2011, Intriago expanded his focus beyond asset recovery to encompass topics of financial crime in general under the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists.
His next big event, the International Financial Crime Conference and Exhibition, set for May 15 at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, includes a roster of speakers including Paul E. Pelletier, former deputy chief of the fraud section at the U.S. Department of Justice, and Donald C. Semesky, former chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Financial Operations. Some 40 companies will be sponsors or exhibitors at the event, which he expects will draw about 500 attendees.
The Miami Herald interviewed Intriago recently at his downtown headquarters, where he oversees some 27 employees, and later emailed him questions.
Q: From Bernie Madoff to Allen Stanford to Scott Rothstein, the major fraudsters often have ties to South Florida. What makes Miami such an epicenter of financial crime?
Epicenter is right. From these big-league Ponzi schemes to healthcare fraud, mortgage fraud, securities fraud, official corruption and welcome mats to dirty money from Latin America, South Florida is the perfect storm of financial crime. Our weather is a draw, making this a second home for many who don’t have deep roots. The desire to show off wealth is evident. Also, we are a cultural polyglot and many South Floridians come from countries of great corruption, and, unfortunately, some of these habits are apparently hard to break. I’m a native of Ecuador, so I’m not speaking out of school. Nevertheless, this is a great international mecca with much to offer, and I’m glad I’ve lived most of my life here.
Q: You mentioned there is increased government focus on cracking down on corrupt foreign practices. What is happening on that front?
Corruption is the engine of financial crime. The U.S. government, finally, is taking enforcement of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act seriously. It’s long overdue. The UK Bribery Act and international organizations, along with nations like Brazil, are taking bold measures against corruption. The SEC and the Justice Department have many ongoing investigations of corrupt practices by U.S. companies with foreign public officials, including in South Florida. That’s no surprise. Business should be conducted honestly, and if corruption is behind business transactions, it should be prosecuted and the penalties should be heavy.
Q: Tracking trends on asset recovery is one of your specialties. Is law enforcement getting better these days at going after criminals’ ill-gotten financial gains? What are the big obstacles?
Financial criminals sleep soundly — even if they’re in prison. They know they have a 98 percent chance that their criminal proceeds are theirs to keep. Asset recovery is the forgotten art of financial crime. Government asset recovery is puny and produces poor results. Congress doesn’t pay attention to it. Private-sector professionals, some of whom are very skilled, face big hurdles, including lack of government help. The government couldn’t convince me there is a good reason it can’t provide some of the tons of financial intelligence it gathers to competent, honest representatives of financial crime victims.
Q: The federal government announced last year it will delay implementing some parts of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, the controversial 2010 law known as FATCA. Why all the fuss about the law?
We call FATCA the “New Patriot Act.” Bankers shed crocodile tears about it, but they have only themselves to blame. Swiss banks, led by UBS, infuriated the U.S. Congress and the American people by their brazen conspiracy to lure U.S. taxpayers to keep secret Swiss bank accounts with millions of dollars and evade U.S. taxes. FATCA will require foreign banks to tell the IRS of U.S. persons who have accounts of more than $50,000. Failure to comply will expose them to big penalties. It is a just and fair law that seeks to even the playing field for all taxpayers. Who can squawk about that?
Q: “Threat finance” is a hot-button topic these days. You mentioned, “All of a sudden, we’re seeing a blossoming of interest by military and intelligence agencies concerned about financial crime.” What’s happening in that realm?
9/11 woke us up to many things, including the fact that all national security threats our nation faces have a financial component. Threats like drug trafficking, human trafficking, trafficking in nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction, foreign corruption and, of course, terrorism all have a financial peg. Our military and intelligence agencies, and those of our allies, have millions of “boots on the ground” that see, hear and observe things that are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, which, if analyzed alongside other pieces, may help choke off the finances of national security threats. That is why “threat finance” is so important in the financial crime arena, why the new CFCS (Certified Financial Crime Specialist) certification we’re building also has it in mind, and why the ACFCS (Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists) Conference, on May 16-18, will train on it.
Q: Are sovereign governments getting better about cooperating and sharing information on suspicious financial transactions?
About 120 nations band together in a confederation called the Egmont Group. It facilitates the sharing of financial intelligence. There is justifiable distrust about sharing sensitive information with nations where the integrity of the top officials is questionable, but on the whole there is now greater international cooperation. The greatest impediment, we believe, to more thorough international cooperation against financial crime is a lack of political will in some countries, which results from corruption.