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To paraphrase the song that at one time was the state’s de facto anthem, “California here they come.” However, according to a report by the state’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, it’s more like “California, they’re already here.” “They” are the international criminal enterprises targeting California from Eastern Europe, Africa and China.
The Associated Press quotes the 181-page report as saying, “These organizations have taken advantage of the technological revolution of the last two decades, as well as advancements in trade, transport and global money transfers, to substantially increase the scale and profitability of their criminal activities in California.”
It goes on to state that California leads the nation in the number of computer systems hacked or infected by malware; victims of Internet crimes and identity theft; and the amount of financial losses suffered as a result of online crimes. And, the state is especially vulnerable to intellectual property theft because of its role in developing new technology and mass-media entertainment.
The report says, “Many of these breaches have been tied to transnational criminal organizations operating from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Israel, Egypt, China, and Nigeria, among other places.”
California’s $2 trillion GDP (gross domestic product), foreign activity and border with Mexico make it ripe for international money-laundering. The report estimates that each year more than $30 billion is laundered through the state’s economy.
Different schemes include filtering money through legitimate businesses or using virtual currencies, e.g., Bitcoin. Less sophisticated efforts included backpacks and duffel bags stuffed with cash. Today, California leads the USA in the number of currency seizures.
Unlike federal law, California state law requires prosecutors to prove a suspect deliberately carried out a financial transaction in a way designed to hide the fact that the money came from or was used for a criminal activity. The Associated Press’s Don Thompson notes that the report says California should change its law to make it easier for prosecutors to crack down on money launderers.
It recommends letting prosecutors temporarily freeze the assets of transnational criminal organizations and associated gangs before seeking an indictment.
And it recommends the state mirror federal law by increasing punishment for people convicted of supervising, managing or financing transnational criminal organizations. In addition, it calls for the state to devote more money to the state Department of Justice, including $7.5 million to fund five new teams to target international criminals.