Investigation Highlights Miami’s Role in Turning ‘Dirty Gold’ Into ‘Clean Cash’

A new journalistic investigation reveals the inner workings of Miami’s dirty gold trade, which has helped powerful Latin American crime groups whitewash their criminal profits.

The multimedia investigation published by the Miami Herald on January 16, entitled “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash,” details two money laundering schemes in which transnational organized crime exploited Miami’s role as a gold and jewelry hub to launder criminal proceeds.

The first section of the multi-part report chronicles how the Miami-based NTR Metals company imported an astonishing $3.6 billion in illegal gold from criminal groups in Latin America between January 2013 and March 2017. The company’s executives pleaded guilty in a sealed agreement in September 2017.

NTR is a subsidiary and gold provider for the Dallas-based Elemetal company, among whose clients are Apple, Tiffany & Co., and dozens of Fortune 500 companies. The Miami-based subsidiary initially bought the illegal product from Peru. In 2013 alone, NTR acquired nearly $1 billion in gold from the Andean country, including some $400 million worth from Pedro Pérez Miranda, alias “Peter Ferrari,” according to the Miami Herald.

Peter Ferrari is one of the main actors linked to a massive Peruvian illegal gold case, which has ensnared NTR along with other foreign-based gold importing companies. On January 9, US authorities made public an indictment against Ferrari and three other Peruvian nationals, alleging an international gold money laundering scheme in which NTR’s three previously-charged executives are named as co-conspirators.

Following Peruvian authorities’ crackdown on the illegal gold trade, NTR followed a known pattern of buying Peruvian gold smuggled to neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador. After the latter two countries upped their enforcement against illegal mining, NTR started to buy gold from Colombia, which is also home to large-scale illegal production.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Gold

But behind this international trade are criminal groups that invest in illicit gold sites in order to launder their criminal proceeds through sales to companies such as NTR, the Miami Herald reported.

Organized crime also exploited Miami’s role as a gold hub to launder criminal proceeds from within the United States, as alleged in a case against more than 30 Chicago-based Sinaloa Cartel members.

US authorities say Sinaloa Cartel operatives used drug proceeds to buy gold from jewelers and pawnshops, before sending the precious metal to a Fort Lauderdale-based company named Golden Opportunities.

Just like NTR, Golden Opportunities would then send the gold to be melted in US refineries before selling it, and would falsify documents to allege that the gold had been acquired from Mexico. This allowed Golden Opportunities use its Mexico-based office to repay its alleged suppliers — in reality Sinaloa Cartel-owned front companies — thereby laundering more than $100 million in drug money.

InSight Crime Analysis

In addition to being physically and culturally close to Latin America, South Florida — and Miami in particular — maintains strong economic ties to the region. For this reason, the city has long been a center of activity for both legal and illicit businesses operating in the United States and its Latin American neighbors.

Once the prime US landing spot for cocaine in the days of the Medellín and Cali cartels during the 1970s and 1980s, Miami still regularly makes headlines for its role in transnational organized crime schemes, from arms trafficking to Latin American countries, to smuggling of trafficked animals into the United States. The city’s busy air and maritime ports often play a central role in these schemes.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

Moreover, Miami’s reputation for extravagance and luxury has made it an attractive money laundering locale. The city’s renown jewelery district provides many opportunties for running schemes like the ones described by the Miami Herald, and its high-priced real estate market offers another method for cleaning dirty cash.

“We are surely the global hub for money laundering,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in April 2016, following the arrest of an alleged money laundering network linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.