Thursday, July 02, 2009


Hiding the Booty! (I)

What do you do with millions in found money?
(First installment)

If there is a way for someone with a lot of cash to hide it, I am sure that public figures making millions a year will have found it and exploited it. They can afford to hire the very best financial gurus to help them stash away their money, and never mind how they got it in the first place.

The classic idea is to open a Swiss bank account and transfer all of the money into a numbered account. I understand that this is not quite the best way to go any more, since the Swiss have given in to the US on some types of accounts that are suspected of money laundering. By Swiss law, I must provide clear evidence of the economic origin of the money so that the bank can be protected from money laundering and other scams. Besides, a numbered account must maintain a balance of $250,000.

So what is the best way now to hide it if you suddenly come into millions? Not that it is very likely, but there are some individuals, such as Madoff and Sanford (the Texas one!), that have made billions and tried to hide lots of it. They appear to have failed miserably in the end! Madoff, for instance, is being forced to come up with 170 billion dollars to pay back his victims.

Here I am, dreaming of suddenly having a huge pile of thousand-dollar bills to handle somehow. Suppose that I found a big, hard-sided suitcase lying on the side of the road, unmarked, heavy, locked, and abandoned. I throw it in the trunk of my car, drive home, force the locks, and take out four boxes, a good bit longer than shoe boxes, open them, and realize that each box is chock full of thousand dollar bills. I begin to count it.

Over four million dollars I count! Then I go into the shock of suddenly having such a stash, and the parade of wants and desires I have had all my life come rushing in to be fulfilled: autos, planes, boats, a big house, wonderful clothes, travel, and vacations in exotic places…

The dreams are rudely interrupted by my recalling the law. Found money must be reported to the police and turned over to them for safekeeping. If no one has a verifiable claim for it after a month or more, you can have it all back. The money then is a matter of record, and the IRS would be around soon to grab their share, which could be as much as HALF!

Then, too, if the money is dirty or dope money, once my name is known by police records, reporters would latch onto the story of a guy walking into the station with four million dollars in found cash. It is virtually certain that some guys with huge muscles will call on me soon to produce the money immediately! I could be in a double bind! The IRS wants its share, and the gangsters will have taken it all. I would still owe the IRS a million or so dollars and they would not believe nor care about my protestations that it was stolen back.

This calls for thought! What are my options? I could take the suitcase full of money to the police, and risk the hoods and the IRS calling. I could take the whole thing back to where I found it, and let someone else struggle with it. I could burn it up; destroy it completely, and spread the ashes in the ocean. Or…I could hide it somewhere and use it slowly and carefully, lest someone report me to the IRS for living beyond my means. Somehow, I don’t think I could fly away with that suitcase of cash! It would very likely be opened at any border I crossed, just as those guys were caught with tons of bonds or something at the Swiss border. I am not a practiced liar or thief, so my very nervousness would tip the border agents off.

What if I simply went traveling around the US, staying here and there for a few days or weeks? Where would I keep the money, and how would I have access to it? Taking it all with me would be far too risky. Putting it into a bank lockbox is not really safe either: banks warn customers not to put cash into the boxes, and the police can get a warrant to open it if they suspect me. I could try to open substantial accounts in different banks, but that establishes a trail that can be followed. I could use different names, but then I would have to have proper identification for each name, which I really don’t have any idea how to obtain. Well, then I could feed my bank account little by little, and report it as something like gambling winnings, and pay the 30%. That falls down when the IRS audits me and finds out that I never gamble, have a relatively small salary, and cannot explain the extra cash I have fed into my account. Even if I did go gamble, they would check the payouts at the places I have been to and find out that I haven’t won a dime.

I sat in the living room staring at those boxes of bills. What can I do? I am in real trouble any way I go. My head hurt with the effort to solve the dilemma.
Oh my, what if all the bills are counterfeit? What if just one of them is! How do I decide whether any of them are bogus? I can’t take them to the bank in case they are! Nor can I spend them until I can find out if they are good or not. I will have to go get a genuine thousand-dollar bill and compare each of the bills with it in great detail. So I Google the US Secret Service, and read about how to detect counterfeits. I am on the right track.

The next day, I go to my bank and draw out a thousand-dollar bill. Back home I begin to compare each of the found bills with my genuine one. They are all old and genuine as best I can determine. Their serial numbers are apparently random also, and there isn’t any red markings on them such as a bank would arrange to paint them if they were stolen in a bank bag. So counterfeiting isn’t my problem!

What has happened to me? I am thinking like a criminal! I have done nothing wrong—yet! But, I seem to be heading towards one or more acts that are felonies! The temptation of four million dollars in cash is overwhelming me, and shoving my ethical standards out the window.

Am I so easily tempted? Admittedly, I have a very strong urge to keep the money, somehow. Then, too, I have an aversion to thugs attacking me for the money, and the IRS then making a complete pauper out of me! What can I do? Of course, there is no way I can know truly what the origin of the money is, but I can definitely suspect it is dirty as hell. The boxes of cash are sitting there as silent testimony to my weakening ethics.

First, I arrange to take a week off from my job. That gives me time to think this out and do some simple things around the house. I buy a reasonably-sized safe and install it myself in the basement, virtually buried in concrete. Then I have an elaborate alarm system installed to help prevent anyone from trying to break in. With the cash deposited in the safe, and the alarm activated, I feel a bit safer, especially after I loaded my 9mm Glock and put it on safety, but I am really no further along in solving the main problem of what to do with four million dollars in cash.

My temporary solution is to sit on the money, and let some time slide by. I pick up my usual routines, my job, and my social affairs, and quietly research what can be done, if anything, to keep the cash. I don’t want to involve anyone else, because that would be a weak point. You cannot trust people when this amount of money is involved. I am living proof of that, now! (What am I doing?)

One key would be to try to convince a Swiss banker of the truth. Their information says, however, that if there is the slightest hint that the money is not of legal origin, they will refuse to open an account and will report it to their authorities. Who would believe that I found four million dollars by the roadside, and have no idea where it came from? “It fell off a truck!” Sure it did! I just want to play “finders, keepers.” Oh, and I have already violated a US law if I take more than ten thousand dollars out of the country without formally registering it and proving its source, among other devastating details.

Wait a minute! Suppose I go to a casino and buy some chips, play for a while, then cash out my stack for a check? Do they keep records of their transactions (yes)? Would I have to prove my identity (don’t know)? This method I can test out by trying it for a few thousand at the nearest casino. Apparently, this is a well-known way to launder, so I’d be foolish to try. Casino goons are just as bad as the gangsters I might have crossed!

To keep the money, it looks like I will have to find a shady banker or lawyer and bribe him to launder the money for me.(What am I saying?) Now, how do I do that? I just walk up to a bank officer or a lawyer and lay my cards on the table. Right! Next stop is the police station 99% of the time.

I am truly stuck for an answer!

To be continued.

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