LOS ANGELES - Police staged mass dawn raids in Los Angeles on Wednesday, seizing at least US$65 million (S$82 million) in cash and funds allegedly linked to money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels.
In what was dubbed "Operation Fashion Police", nine people were arrested as some 1,000 officers fanned out in the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles, which one official called the "epicentre of narco-dollar money laundering".
One business targeted in the huge crackdown was alleged to have laundered ransom payments which secured the release of a US national who was tortured while held in Mexico, prosecutors said.
Police executed dozens of search warrants on businesses suspected of using so-called "Black Market Peso Exchange" (BMPE) schemes to launder narcotics proceeds for international drug cartels.
Some US$35 million in cash was found in one warehouses alone. Police released pictures of the money crammed into cardboard boxes.
"We have targeted money laundering activities in the Fashion District based on a wealth of information that numerous businesses there are engaged in Black Market Peso Exchange schemes," said Assistant US Attorney Robert E. Dugdale.
"Los Angeles has become the epicentre of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses," he added.