LOS ANGELES - U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Authorities announced nine arrests as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Police arrested three people connected with a business called QT Fashion in the bustling fashion district of Los Angeles. Authorities say the owner and two employees channeled ransom funds for an American held captive by the Sinaloa drug cartel, funneling the money through 17 fashion businesses before the captive was released.
Authorities also issued arrest warrants for three people in Mexico in connection with that case.
Other indictments involve two sting operations in fashion companies that authorities say laundered drug profits by selling apparel in what the officials call a black market peso exchange.
Investigators have seized more that $65 million, including at least $35 million in cash from one Los Angeles location.
The investigation required the tracking of duffel bags and cartons full of money, said California attorney general Kamala Harris.
“Although it seems and appears to be complex, what was involved at the heart of it was very simple - follow the money,” said Harris.
William Bodner of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the probe is ongoing and more arrests can be expected among those who cooperate with drug cartels.
'This is just the beginning. The law enforcement community in Los Angeles is coming after you,” said Bodner.
The Los Angeles fashion industry has annual revenues around $18 billion. Officials say it has attracted drug money since the Mexican government tightened restrictions on cash transfers four years ago. And they say Los Angeles has become the epicenter of cartel money laundering.