Michael McDonald knew where the bodies were buried.
In this case, the bodies of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin — as in the namesakes on the U.S. $20, $50 and $100 bills. These bills were piled in stacks at Miami banks during the Cocaine Cowboys era of the 1980s.
McDonald, who died Oct. 20 at his home in Wellington at 68 of melanoma, could tell you exactly how high.
“A full-sized Samsonite suitcase with wheels will hold half a million dollars in U.S. currency in $20-dollar bills. One million dollars in $20-dollar bills weighs 114 pounds,” McDonald told PBS’ ‘Frontline’ in 2000. As a 27-year Internal Revenue Service agent in the Criminal Investigation Division during South Florida’s drug wars of the 1970s and ’80s, McDonald helped bust members of Colombia’s infamous Medellin Cartel.
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“The amount of currency that [drug lord] Carlos Lehder moved through the Bahamian bank accounts of his would have stacked up four times the height of the courthouse in which he was tried in Jacksonville,” he told “Frontline.” “It is mind-boggling.”
Indeed, before McDonald helped form the first money laundering task force in South Florida in 1980 with Operation Greenback, there were no effective money laundering laws on the books. South Florida was awash in billions from the drug trade and banks and businesses gleefully accepted bags of cash, no questions asked.
Mike’s influence on the birth and growth of the global anti-money laundering industry, started in 1980, cannot be overstated.
Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor in South Florida and anti-money-laundering expert.
“The money was coming in down here in suitcases and duffel bags to pay for the cocaine,” McDonald told the Miami Herald in 1990.
Bank officers would accept cash in paper bags and suitcases before Operation Greenback put teeth in the law that compelled the institutions to file Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs) for deposits greater than $10,000. He knew to bring down the cartels you had to go after the money and stop the flow of cash.
“It wasn’t until the drug war hit South Florida that we looked at the Bank Secrecy Act, as we called it, and the tracing of currency to look at these reports. That’s when we realized banks aren’t filing them — not just in Miami but all over. I think there were 129,000 CTRs filed by banks in 1979. And in comparison today, I believe that it’s about 12 million a year,” he told “Frontline.”
“Mike’s influence on the birth and growth of the global anti-money laundering industry, started in 1980, cannot be overstated,” said Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor in South Florida and an anti-money-laundering expert.
Intriago recalled McDonald’s tale of the drug trafficker who went to a Miami bank with a trunk full of bills. Before the cash was carted inside, the man and a bank employee walked back out. “‘Holy s---! My car is gone.’
“The banker said, ‘Should I call the police?’ and he says, ‘No, just call me a cab.’”
Born Feb. 12, 1948, in Gary, Indiana, McDonald moved to Miami in 1966 to earn a business administration degree from the University of Miami in 1970. He retired as a U.S. Treasury agent in 1998 and formed a Miami-based consulting firm of retired special agents specializing in international money laundering, the Patriot Act and asset forfeiture. In 2014, he was the first Anti-Money Laundering Pioneer Award recipient from the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists.
“He was a family man first, and foremost,” who “loved to fish, golf, dive and travel,” said Melanie McDonald, his wife of 45 years.
McDonald, a member of the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, stayed out of the limelight, Intriago said. “He was one of those guys where politicians got laws passed and will take credit for it, but the real genius was Mike McDonald.”
We whack the money, and he’s not a happy camper. So disruption became a buzzword of ours.
Mike McDonald, the former U.S. Treasury agent to “Frontline,” on how to stop drug traffickers.
As McDonald explained to “Frontline”: “If a load of coke gets seized, they kick out more coke at $1,500 a kilo — cost. If you seize money, it’s dollar for dollar. They’re in business to make the money. We whack the money, and he’s not a happy camper. So disruption became a buzzword of ours.”
McDonald is also survived by his children Carrie and Ryan, grandson Michael, and brother Larry McDonald. Contributions can be made to UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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