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Authorities announce sweep of drug cartel money laundering in LA’s Fashion District

Santee Alley located in the heart of the Fashion District in downtown LA.
Santee Alley located in the heart of the Fashion District in downtown LA.

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This morning a coalition of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA, ICE, DOJ and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, announced a major sweep of Mexican drug cartels who have allegedly been laundering money in the Los Angeles fashion district. 

The way authorities explained what they're calling the "Black Market Peso Exchange," clothing was sent from the fashion district to Mexico and instead of sending pesos back to pay for that clothing,  money went to the cartels. Here in Los Angeles, the garment sellers were then paid off with money from drug sales in Southern California.

The announcement today followed an early morning raid that involved about 1,000 law enforcement officials, more than 70 locations and resulted in 9 arrests. Authorities estimate that they seized at least $65 million today, and in one Bel Air location this morning, authorities found at least $35 million in cash, but are still counting. 

This is not the first time the Feds have targeted the garment district. Back in 2007, a dozen defendants were arrested in what authorities referred to Operation Bell Bottoms, which centered around drug trafficking and counterfeit goods. This most recent incident is another example of what authorities have known for some time-- that Mexican drug cartels have expanded operation into Southern California. 

KPCC political reporter Frank Stoltze was at the announcement and joins us for an update on the investigation. 


Frank Stoltze, KPCC Political Reporter