©2010 The Media Desk
"So, when I finally retire, who are you going to give these to?" I asked the captain.
He mumbled something that I didn't understand and walked back into his office.
"Thanks," I said as he closed the door behind him.
And so I started another case.
International fraud and conspiracy, money laundering, murder, and even multiple out standing parking tickets.
This one had it all, two dead bodies in a car that had been found burning under a bridge here and another one that ended up floating in the Mediterranean, millions of dollars missing, several connections to Europe and Asia, a mob boss that was already in US federal prison, a pretty woman that couldn't talk without crying, a pastry chef that didn't speak English, and more.
I looked through the background information and notes from others that had investigated it, then I had to check to see if my passport was up to date.
In most cases of international money laundering, the money was funneled through places like Brazil and Russia into Swiss banks for use by the perpetrators when they retired to someplace sunny and sandy.
In this case, some of the money had gone from the office downtown to places that I had never heard of, and when I looked them up, one of them officially didn't exist. I still wasn't sure what continent Transdniestria was on, even after I looked it up on the map, and when I looked through the basic information on our data gathering form, somebody had written 'ain't one' under the line 'closest major airport'.
Another large sum of money had been transferred to an account in a bank in Louangphabang in Laos from one of their offices in Canada. All I knew about Laos was that the US had tried to avoid involving it in the Vietnam War and that there were huge catfish in one of its rivers from a TV show.
I was not, and still am not, a world traveler. My sole experience outside this country consisted of one summer when I accompanied a school group to Mexico. But as I read the file I realized that like it or not, I was going to have to find out what the Interpol protocols were for investigating murders and massive embezzlement through a dozen foreign countries.
Now I was reading the profile on one of the deceased executives who had been found under the bridge two weeks ago who had been a major player in the corporation in Uruguay. I did know that Uruguay was in South America, but I wasn't sure if it was the one on the coast or the other one. It's the one on the coast.
I went out and got some lunch, then came back and made myself comfortable and began reading what the investigation so far had turned up.
The first thing that raised my eyebrows was the name of the company. Or rather, the names of the company. Depending on what you were talking about it had been called World Epic Investments Group, MangaFront Income Investments, Overseas Growth Economy Fund, and even ACME Generation Holdings and Investments.
That one made me pause, but I went on shaking my head. And it wasn't the last time I simply accepted something, shook my head, and went on in this one.
I started drawing one of my pictures even while I was still eating my turkey and cheese sandwich.
I wrote the names of the companies, all nine of them, across the top of my paper, then I wrote the names of their officers under them, and started drawing lines.
The dead guy from Uruguay, one Andes (pronounced "ann-Dess" according to the notes) de Barros had gone to a university down there for his MBA, then he signed on with one of the competitors to MangaFront, which was then merged and became Overseas under this company, and he was promoted from account manager to General Managing Director. He was also a Vice President for World Epic, and a Counsel Advisor for ACME, and strangely enough, a Director for Manga.
The unfortunate American in the car with him when it decided to fall off a bridge and burst into flames... shortly after both occupants had shot each other, and not with the gun that was found in the car, which had been fired, but was of the wrong caliber to cause either wound.... anyway, the other person in the car was one Mrs. Maria Adkins. Lately of Chicago and Miami, was listed as the Executive Manager for ACME, and she had another title at Manga, and was on the board of Overseas, and so on.
The company based in, say Laos, would invest in the companies in Uruguay and their American office in my home town. They, in turn had been putting money into an outfit in Transdniestria, which was really part of Moldova, which I had heard of. That one would buy stock in the company in Uruguay and Laos in the name of the holding company based in Lebanon. And then around it would go again. All the time using companies in markets outside the US and Canada that were, to be diplomatic about it, less than top shelf.
My picture soon became more than my sheet of notebook paper could handle, so I moved to the conference room and used the old white board again.
I had countries, companies, people, currencies, and even international charities in circles and squares all over the board, with lines running every which way. It was the most confused diagram I had ever seen in the course of an investigation.
Finally I stopped as I reached the last page of the information and asked myself one question.
"How did they keep it all straight?"
The answer was a clue, whether I liked it or not was another story, "they didn't".
According to a Federal investment auditor, the entire scheme had begun to unravel when the financial markets went through a phase of, as they put it, contraction and correction.
All of their profits were made of thin air and their balance sheets were as much of a work of fiction as some of the Reality TV shows my wife watched. There was real money under there someplace, but it wasn't in any way shape or form related to the hundreds of millions of Euros, Lao Kips, Dollars and Pesos that they claimed the combined operation was worth.
But that complex shell game still didn't explain why somebody had set the car on fire or dropped Monsieur Roberts off a dock inside a roll of ugly carpet. I sent an inquiry to the inspector that was working on that case in Europe, with the connection to my own case outlined, and asked if they had anything develop if they could send me any information as a professional courtesy that I would appreciate it and reciprocate likewise.
My instinct was that somebody within the system had figured out that the scheme was doomed, cashed out, and got called on it by the others.
I needed to see actual transfers of real money, not the paper 'hope and dreams' transfers that I had on all the forms and sheets in the file. I wanted to know when and where real live hard currency had changed hands. So I called the Federal securities agent lady and we had a long talk.
Then I signed out and flew to Atlanta and met with the team that was working the overseas angles of the whole mess.
"There's another murder involved now," I told them as the meeting began.
"Oh, who?" The Federal lead asked me.
"Right before I left to come down here, I got an email from my contact at Interpol, the Senior Manager of the Eastern Growth Fund was found under a train in Slobozie in Trans-dnies-stria." I looked at the hand written note I had, I couldn't print the email out in the taxi. "I can't pronounce his name, it's this guy." I pointed to a printed copy of a photo of my big board.
"Oleg," one of the investigators said with smile.
"The last name."
"Oh, god, I have no idea."
"Anyway, Mister Oleg was their primary contact to trace the transfer of over eighty million Euros to an account there." I continued.
"And now he's dead too."
And with that, it seems I took over the meeting.
I pointed out the fact that the late Mister Oleg Szchingerninzksaya had well known connections to certain elements of the Russian Mafia, and one of their operatives was now in a US Federal prison on, guess what? Money laundering charges.
"I'm on it." One of the associate investigators said, "full records, court transcripts, known associates, his favorite dessert in the joint, all of it." He said on his way out of the room.
"And the name of his lawyer." I said as a hunch.
"Why?" The lead asked me.
"Lawyers have investments." I answered her with no smile at all.
We recreated the diagram I had done back home, and then added two more layers.
The mafia connection added connections to a South American drug lord, a white slaver in Romania, a Japanese group that smuggled exotic pets out of South East Asia. And they all had lawyers representing a handful of international legal firms. Several of those firms were squeaky clean as far as we could tell. But a few of them did have investment wings, and a couple of those wings had fingers that were into our web all the way up to their shoulders.
The lead investigator looked at our handiwork and shook her head. "OK, now what?"
I bit my lower lip for a second, "I'm betting we'll never find out who killed Oleg or the guy in the carpet. I'd be happy just to find out who pushed that car off the bridge back home."
"Agreed. Besides, I'm pretty sure Moldova is out of both of our jurisdictions."
I nodded, "So, I don't think one of these 'senior adviser' types shot two people and then ran the car off the bridge without leaving a fingerprint on it. But, a hit man for the Russian or Japanese mob might. And most likely, they're overseas right now as well, at the end of an ice cold trail."
"So, who paid for the hit?"
She looked at the complex network on the board and her eyes narrowed as she read the names and followed the lines. "Who indeed?"
We gathered information for another two days, and spent far too long interrogating the brother of one of the officials of the company's office in Canada over a video conference link in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's fraud office in St. John, New Brunswick.
The brother spoke greatly accented French, and no English. None of us spoke French, so we had to rely on the Mounties to translate both ways, which slowed the whole process down tremendously. While he maintained that his bakery was owned by his brother, he didn't know anything about the brother's business, and he seemed more concerned about the dough he had left in a proof box to rise than he was about where his brother was.
When I mentioned that some of the other person's of interest in the case had been found dead, the chef's face turned as white as his baker's coat, and he talked long and fast in French. The translation came a moment later.
"Our dear mother has never approved of Bryer's work, she's always been afraid of some of the people he works with. They're not nice people. That's why I like baking. I stay out of those things."
The Mounties said that they had been watching the bakery, and the baker, for some time. The only link to the company was on paper, but everything else on that side seemed to be on the up and up. Except for the fact that the brother was missing and the office the company used was as empty as if they had never moved in.
They let the baking brother go back to his dough after he promised that if he heard from his brother that he would call the authorities.
Then the lead investigator for Interpol's securities division called us and asked if we could come to a meeting with them.
My wife had agreed that flying to Atlanta to help close the case was a good idea. But this was something else all together.
"It's on a State Department plane," I said when she asked what it would cost and would my department pay for it. "As part of the investigative team."
She finally agreed as long as I brought her back something nice from down there.
"What do you want?" I asked her.
"I don't even know what they have, just find something, and bring it to me." I could hear the smile in her voice.
And so we left.
It was the longest airplane ride of my life. Twelve hours, non stop, to Montevideo.
We got two meals on board, and all the snacks we wanted. We watched two movies, and talked about the case.
We talked a lot about the case.
But we couldn't solve it.
Until we got to the company's office in Durazno.
Then we solved it. Well. Most of it anyway.
It's funny when you look at it now.
This multi-national scheme, transferring incredible amounts of money back and forth, riding fluctuations in the monetary markets for fun and profit, dealing in speculation and insider trading, in floating loans and every other way you can make money without actually producing anything, had its offices in places like this.
Durazno is a medium sized city of maybe fifty thousand people in the town itself, and with a business district that looks like it was absolutely smitten with the local soccer team. Banners and signs were everywhere and about half of the people we saw as we were being driven through in a van were wearing their red and white jerseys.
As it turned out, the driver did speak some English when it came time to discuss their football team. "Oh, sirs, and ladies, even it is a new team less tens years old, but we win a lot." The driver held up the 'we're number one' finger and grinned.
Peaches and soccer. That's what they had in Durazno. I would have to do some looking to find something to take to my wife.
The building that was the Uruguayan base office for Overseas, World Epic, ACME, and all the rest looked like every other second, or maybe third, tier business office in the world. Built from concrete blocks and some off color aluminum siding sometime back in history the structure could have been anything under the sun. But what it was now was ground zero in a major international scandal and murder investigation.
"Welcome." A very official gentleman in a police uniform said. "I am sorry you must visit my country in times like this."
"Thank you." The federal lady said.
"The evidence is all in here. Please." He indicated another room.
To boil it down, when the staff of the Durazno office had heard that Mister de Barros had gone on to his reward, they just locked up the office and went home, and to church, to mourn, and never came back to clean up.
It was a proverbial gold mine of information.
Most businesses of this sort had two sets of books. One for the insiders and one for the government. Here, they had at least four that we could find.
We all agreed that the official books that they maintained for the benefit of the local tax and regulatory officials had no basis in the real world other than the address of the office and the name of the secretary that maintained the books.
It was the others that we were interested in, but they brought the secretary in anyway. The majority of the rest of the staff seemed to be out of town now. The police were now looking for them as well.
Miss Estonza was the most exotic looking woman I'd ever seen. Her hair was so black that it glowed blue in the fluorescent lights in the room. She had large expressive dark eyes that stayed filled with tears the whole time she was there. And she spoke about five words of English, all related to ordering pizza, so our conversations with her had to be conducted through a local interpreter as well.
"She says that she is very sorry that Andes is dead, he is the one that knows it all." The interpreter said.
"Tell her we are sorry he is dead too, that we would like to catch who killed him and send them to prison."
The interpreter relayed the message, but her answer didn't need translating.
"She didn't kill him, and doesn't know who did," I said.
"Do you speak Portuguese, sir?" The interpreter asked me.
"No, sir. I speak 'murder suspect'."
For a couple long days I spent a lot of time drinking brutally strong coffee and watching soccer on TV to either Portuguese or Spanish commentary while the others looked through every ledger book and computer file in the office. But the food was good and plentiful for us. The hotel could have been better, but it had Internet, and a telephone, and a TV full of soccer and Portuguese soap operas, but it was OK because I could stay in touch with home from what seemed like the other side of the planet.
From what the accountants from Interpol and the US Fed, and Uruguay and everybody else could tell, each and every office of the corporation had been ripping off every other office with almost every transaction since the thing was founded, and they all knew it, and it was accepted as standard procedure. The rub came when a couple of the offices got greedy and what was being skimmed off the top began to hurt the overall flow of business.
Finally, there wasn't enough real money in the system to hang the mirrors on to reflect images of the smoke to the outside world, and that's when it began to come apart.
Somewhere along the line some of the operatives, my bet being the brother of the baker was one of them, grabbed their loot and split for parts unknown while people like Oleg and Andes and the guy in the carpet ended up dead. Unless, that is, the brother turned up as fish bait in the Bay of Fundy in the near future.
We had broken the financial side of the case wide open. Something on the order of eleven countries were cutting arrest warrants on charges like securities and wire fraud for over a hundred people.
But I was more concerned with the fact that I had two dead bodies at home, and others elsewhere, and nobody to pin their murders on.
"Senhor do polícia," one of the people wading through the computer files said as they waved for me to come over to where they were working.
"That's what I need." I said as I read the English language version of the email from de Barros to the crying woman.
He had left a meeting with Mrs. Adkins and somebody named Holston and his friend Sid for the airport.
We knew what happened to both de Barros and Adkins, but the other two we had no record of.
"Wait a minute..." I said, I was half remembering something, "Where's my stuff?"
"Ther senhor." Another helper said pointing toward the corner under the TV.
I found my diagram and poured over it until I hit it. "It's not Holston. It's Halstead. Michael Halstead, Esquire, he's right here. And he's missing too. I don't know who Sid is, but I bet Halstead does."
The Federal lady looked at it then nodded and turned toward her assistant. "Get on the horn, I want a wall to wall coast to coast APB for this guy."
"He's a partner in the Smith and Amos law firm, they're affiliated with the ... well, it's all right there. That's his office number," then I thought of something else, "I need to copy this to my contact in Europe, is that OK?"
"Yes, of course." The lady said.
The assistant looked at the information I had and nodded, "You're good."
"Thanks. But it doesn't count unless we catch him." I answered.
Which means it still hasn't counted.
There were nine partners in the scheme that never came to light.
Several of the other names on the list turned up here and there, some were arrested, and a few others were buried.
As far as we can tell, the Nine either found some deserted tropical island and retired under assumed names, or they were at the bottom of a really deep lake someplace.
As far as how much real money was actually missing was another whole story. The various accounts that were involved had been frozen as soon as we cracked the books in Uruguay and knew what accounts to freeze. There was a lot of money missing. Millions were gone just as if a magician had dropped a wad of cash into a magic hat. Enough was missing to ensure that those nine could afford a lot of tropical drinks on their islands.
If not the island itself.
Oh, and the souvenirs for my wife? The officer from the Durazno department fixed us up with a selection of things to take home, including several soccer jerseys.
She kept the matched set of local hand made jewelry, I took the jersey to the captain. So they were both happy that way even though the case is still officially unsolved.
For more adventures with The Detective see:
1. The Robbery
2. murder and other fun at The Sun Club
3. The Water Murders
4. Amused To Death
5. Too many suspects spoil the case.
6. The Grand Conspiracy.
7. Murder isn't a Joke.
8. "Sometimes you can't arrest the perpetrator."
9. A Partner In Crime.
10. "Somebody is killing all the bad guys."
the Desk's Fiction Department
[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]
The Fiction Index
Back to the Desk