The seizure of $22 million from the Drugs Sou Sou in La Horquetta last week is possibly one of the biggest money laundering operations in T&T.
However, it has now been linked to several law enforcement officials with powerful connections and underworld figures who are using the DSS, which has been described as a pyramid scheme, to clean their dirty money.
Senior police investigators told Guardian Media that according to their intelligence, the DSS may be a “well-organised money laundering scheme under the guise of a pyramid scheme.”
The complex investigation has taken many twists and turns since the $22m was seized from a La Horquetta apartment last Tuesday by officers from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and mysteriously given back mere hours later to the licenced money lender behind it, a Lance Corporal with the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF).
Other top heads of the DSS are also army personnel.
Officers probing the case have now been taken into a dark world of money laundering where well-known drug and arms dealers in the underworld are using the guise of the pyramid scheme to “wash dirty money.”
Senior investigators said several runners for underworld figures have been seen frequenting the La Horquetta apartment over the last five weeks. In one instance, investigators said, a well-known underworld figure sent a runner to the apartment about two weeks ago with a million dollars in cash. Police sources said over the past few weeks, millions of dollars were taken by runners for known underworld figures.
The issuing of receipts in some cases, investigators alleged, is only to create a legitimate paper trail for the illicit money that was carried in to form part of this scheme.
“The pyramid scheme was designed to create the illusion of business activity to explain the source of the money,” revealed an investigator close to the case.
The foundation of the crime is based mainly on a cash system and criminals and other complicit officials can end up with millions of dollars that they would not want to explain about to the authorities.
Investigators also discovered that police and army officers complicit in the activity have been paid protection money for DSS operations to run uninterrupted.
Investigators said at least nine police officers and ten army personnel have been in some way involved in helping to facilitate this scheme for some time now.
A senior officer in the TTPS executive, an ASP, a senior superintendent, an inspector, two sergeants, one corporal and two police constables, all now identified by name, have been linked to the scheme. Most of the officers are attached to the Northern Division with the exception of the TTPS executive officer.
Police also have information relevant to one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, one major, two captains, all named, and four other unnamed officers ranging from a Military Transport Officer (MTO), Regiment Sargent Major (RSM), a corporal and a private.
Investigators said based on information they have received, the army personnel were paid at least two or more hands and the TTDF personnel “was given time off and protection within the company.”
In reference to the police officers who are allegedly part of the pyramid scheme, investigators said they were “paid early hands and given hands without money passing to provide protection and the DSS was given the assurance they will be protected.”
According to a senior investigator, four days before the raid, the CEO of DSS said, “He didn’t want any beef with the police or army,” and decided to pay them on the Friday and Saturday.
The intelligence report compiled by investigators indicated that police officers moonlighted with DSS for close to $2,000 per day. They explained that one officer would be near the main gate to the premises, another in the company of the CEO and another in a room where there was a vault.
Police patrols were also part of the arrangement as a back-up in case anything occurred but strict instructions were given to be as invisible as possible.
In many cases, senior law enforcement personnel would use “disarmament names to disguise their names calling,” an intelligence report revealed.
However, investigators said they are in the process of obtaining several telephone conversations that took place between these law enforcement officers and administrators of the DSS. This also includes text messages.
Investigators said the CEO, also a serviceman, would often boast about being protected by senior police officers.
Investigators have also discovered that one of the DSS admin personnel, with the alias NN, has a pending gun and robbery charge.
Several underworld figures, including the deceased Cedric “Burkie” Burke, investigators said, invested heavily in this pyramid scheme.
Investigators said one of the people connected to DSS recently purchased a new Toyota Prado (registration number included) and a house in the East costing somewhere in the region of $1.2m-$1.8m and paid in cash.
Investigators said they have also traced particular transactions to a specific bank that they are also examining in detail.
Schemes are as follows:
Invest the following sums and get returns in 21 days.
$3,500 – $28,000
$10,000 – $56,000
$15,000 – $100,000
Asked to comment, CoP Gary Griffith said, it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the particular matter as the investigation is ongoing.
“However, we have discovered that certain so-called sou-sous/pyramid schemes are simply cosmetic fronts for a massive criminal operation to launder tens of millions acquired primarily from the illegal drug sale by the underworld. Very few countries in the world, would the police discover over $20 million in cash in a house, and many get offended and shamelessly argue that the money should not have been seized to verify that all was acquired by legitimate means.”