TULSA, Oklahoma -
The U.S. Justice Department says a Tulsa used car dealership is one of about 30 U.S. car buyers that are part of a money-laundering scheme which used the U.S. financial system to benefit the militant group Hezbollah.
According to a complaint filed in a New York City federal court, the scheme involved funds sent from Lebanon to the U.S. to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa.
Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hezbollah-controlled money laundering channels.
FBI agents, DEA agents and Tulsa Police were at offices of Ace Auto Leasing at 11th and Sheridan Friday morning.
Police officers were checking VIN numbers of all the cars at the business, while FBI agents were in the offices.
Agents told News On 6 there have not been any arrests in Tulsa so far.
In the federal complaint, Ace Auto Leasing is listed as making wire transfers of $20,241,183.
Read the complaint.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the civil case reveals a massive international scheme in which Lebanese financial institutions, including banks and two exchange houses linked to Hezbollah, passed money through the U.S. financial system to launder proceeds from narcotics trafficking and other criminal enterprises through West Africa and back into Lebanon.
"The intricate scheme laid out in today's complaint reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism," Prett Bharara said. "Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents."
The government said substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hezbollah, which has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization since 1997.
View the New York Times graphic that explains how the feds say the scheme worked.