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International Crime Back in the Day

Updated on April 28, 2015

First Kill All the Artists

Not Shakespeare, but what you might think if you were the victim of bank fraud in the 1970s. Of course, the object of your bloodlust would be a forge, not an artist. But in some cases, it might not be clear, since art suffers from the same crime: forgery. The whole ugly business is condensed in a movie trailer in which a man is introduced to a forgery hanging on a museum wall. The painting looks exactly as it should, and so does the signature in the corner. That signature is subject to a dark craft the naked eye cannot distinguish as authentic or not, that is, if its forgery is done professionally. Today, perhaps, there are gadgets that can compensate for human err. But back in the day -- or the fifties, sixties, and seventies, let's say -- thieves could access healthy bank accounts, arrange transfers, and collect enormous gains before the rightful owners of the money got wind of what had happened.

Naturally, bank fraud was neither for the common nor petty thief. He or she, both men and women, needed to look the part. Ordinarily, they were fluent in several languages. They dressed well and were, generally speaking, attractive. Their association, too, had to seem completely random, even though everything was well-timed and planned in advance. Very often they came from different countries, so that they made use of communicative skills beyond the norm, and ahead of their time. Arrests of a single outfit in the sixties included an impressive array of representatives from some seventeen nations. Cooperation in the name of bank theft was surprisingly harmonious.

Money, Money, Money

A nice collectible from the 19th century.
A nice collectible from the 19th century. | Source

Pay the Two Dollars

An old vaudeville act accurately describes the actual source of this material. To wit, a $2 pocket book picked up in a used bookstore. Not the Library of Congress or Scotland Yard. This little book is filled with capers and cases that must be read to be appreciated. The details might be over-familiar to employees of Interpol in the aftermath of WWII, but the armchair detective needs schooling. For instance, how did gangs into bank fraud know where the money was? Simple: they bribed mail carriers. Overnight they opened and resealed statements. But among counterfeiters, their advantage was to be able to produce a very credible product, undiscouraged by occasions during which some of them would be caught and jailed. Counterfeiters never sought 100% deception. They anticipated the forfeit of a certain portion of their business to law enforcement. Making things even harder to handle, Bank of America Travelers Checks were, according to the instructions of BAC, always accepted no matter what. Its policy was also "realistic", working expected losses into the entirety, making up for them with insurance and, get this, shareholders.

Interestingly, for some reason, counterfeiting had a definite international leaning. An outfit in New Jersey was able to pass off American currency into South America without a hitch. Only when a greedier few could not resist trying the same in NYC did they run into trouble. Australians were experts in producing German marks. The author makes the point that after a while, counterfeiting and drug trafficking linked up in some synergistic fashion. This is an unfortunate consequence since the morgue takes a large bite out of the so-called "fun and games" aspect of these wayward entrepreneurs and their dramatic escapades. Naturally, a well-heeled drug trafficker is much likelier to get into the good graces of genuinely well-funded buyers than a South American with nothing but the clothes on his back. There was a case, however, of a very beautiful lady who got away with every ploy in banks until a disgruntled suitor made it personal.

A side issue is how easily fooled bankers could be by those who had mastered the fine art of courtesy, haughtiness, and old world charm. A million dollar loan was negotiated using phony stock certificates for collateral. Only later, when a lowly vault clerk noticed that several of the certificates were numbered exactly the same, did the front office awaken to its blunder. This was also an oversight on the part of the counterfeiters, who by now had broadened out to include traveler's checks, passports, bonds, stocks, and, of course, credit cards. As to how authentic these items were, crime statisticians noted that nearly twenty years after a single operation had been raided and disbanded, its American twenties and fifties were still in circulation.

A Fin

The backside of a 1928 bill -- the real McCoy.
The backside of a 1928 bill -- the real McCoy. | Source

Five Will Get You Ten

That is, if you know how to do it. As the readers reads on, however, it becomes increasingly clear that bank robbing and counterfeit eventually took a distant second to drug dealing. Interpol was published in 1973. It is ancient history. But it concerns certain staples in the industry such as heroin and cocaine, not to mention synthetics like LSD, as well as amphetamines and barbiturates. At HubPages, some writers are interested in penning novels that might fetch a movie option. Interpol's exploits are a minefield. Drugs are hard assets literally to die for, unlike houses, artwork, automobiles, and collectibles. It seems as though these are at best chancy from the get-go. Not so with illegal substances. They are invaluable. Already in the late sixties and early seventies, one can only imagine how many people, and peoples, were involved in the illegal trade. They ranged from growing poppies, or setting up a lab, to actual street sales. In the early seventies there were not that many companies in corporate America earning over a billion dollars, yet the drug trade was far ahead in terms of scale and return.

Smugglers might use airplanes, suitcases, clothing, hidden compartments in trucks, or various shipments of almost any kind, including jars of pickles, to move drugs into the U.S., considered at the time the world's best market. The stories are absurd. Travelers arrive with suitcases that weigh a hundred pounds less on departure. A man goes into a drug store in Mexico and purchases 300,000 barbiturates. A laboratory in the U.S. sends a million pills to a Mexican company, whose address turns out to be a golf course. Apparently it is more difficult to smuggle out huge stacks of twenties than it is to bring in contraband. Sometimes drugs are simply tossed over the border from Mexico to the U.S. How they got there is another story, involving a number of countries, couriers, processors, refiners, militias, and executive-types in managerial positions who supervise. Perhaps I am only repeating here what everyone already knows since I rarely watch television and still consider The French Connection the ultimate movie on the subject based on factual material.

A Controversial Measure to Stop Drug Trafficking

Close the U.S.-Mexico Border?

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A Brief Exposé of a Global Menace

The Root Causes

As long as the current administration has a longing to discover the root causes of terrorism in peace-loving men and women gone bad, why not initiate a probe into how the drug trade became so violent. This aspect of the business is not in my source because the addition of big guns into the drug world had not yet fully blossomed. Common sense suggests that it is more the result of rivalry among purveyors rather than firefights between law enforcement and the criminal element, though the latter can flare up at any time. It can also be said that ours is a more evil age than preceding decades, not that the border, for instance, was at any time in the recent past a playground. There is more ordnance than ever, more efficient than ever, and with a greater willingness to use them regardless of who the targets might be -- e.g., uniformed or not, male or female, young or old. It goes without saying, drug traders cannot avail themselves of the judicial system to protect their interests. Instead, they resort to force.

There is nothing really nice or humorous about Americans paying top dollar to feed their addictive appetites. Actions taken back in the day included Operation Intercept and Operation Cooperation. Too soft and feel good. Not that substantive moves to destroy crops in Mexico or elsewhere did not put a momentary dent into the black market. But drugs as a business are a world-wide concern. The book speaks of "Iran tonnage", for instance, in reference to its opium and heroin production. In 1971, a national "war on drugs" was declared by the White House. In other words, many sincere and meaningful efforts have been made, not just words. One wonders if our nuclear negotiators are taking any of this into account, or have chosen instead to overlook Iran's stealthier tactic to undermine the West, to zero in on a deadlier issue. In any case, a credible discussion having to do with the gradual decline of civilization must not underestimate the drug trade nor neglect Interpol.

Street Value? Who Knows?

Truly a Fortune.
Truly a Fortune. | Source


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