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Marijuana Consumers Go To Prison While Cartel Bankers Get Bonuses


drug cartel hsbc bank money launderingSell Weed To Pay Rent And Get Prison Time. Launder Nine Billion Dollars For Drug Cartels And Get Bonuses!

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the best journalist out there explaining the world of high-finance criminality that is allowed to flout the law, ransack our tax dollars, and never get truly punished time and time again.  This time, his reporting on the financial settlement with British megabank HSBC shows how the high-finance criminals finance your high and profit handsomely while you go to prison if you try to profit.

Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer…  this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC…. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

Wow.  Let’s assume you’re a contract bookkeeper for some company and you make the US median household income of $45,000 a year.  Now let’s pretend your weed dealer friend gave you $20,000 of his profit every month for years to deposit in your company’s accounts to launder it.  Now let’s imagine that you’re caught by police, you admit all of this to them, you’re facing decades in prison and they say, “that’s OK, we’re not going to arrest you or charge you with any crimes.  Would you take a settlement of a $4,300 civil fine instead?”

Keep in mind, you’re not actually going to be on the hook for the $4,300.  Your company is going to pay that for you.  Not only that, but you even get to keep your job and some of the bonuses you earned for being the guy who brought $20,000 worth of monthly income in to the company.  This is from the Asst. AG Breuer:

As a result of the government’s investigation, HSBC has . . . “clawed back” deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

That’s right, the feds caught you laundering some weed dealer’s $20,000 a month red-handed, you openly admitted it to them, and not only are you not charged with any crimes, you “agreed” to keep your job, your company pays your $4,300 fine, and you get some of your bonus for bringing in the drug money now and the rest in five years.  Why do you get such preferred treatment?  Because if we actually seized your company’s ill-gotten assets and prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned you, your company might go under.

As the New York Times puts it:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

What a relief!  You might have been worried, figuring that really, you’re just another bookkeeper, there are lots of them out there, and your company has been around since 1865 and did fine without you all those decades.  Turns out, you’re the best goddamn bookkeeper in history and without you walking the streets and enjoying your bonuses, the entire planet will be cast into financial ruin.

Now the banks aren’t just too big to fail.  They’re too big to jail.  Taibbi nails it:

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. … On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid.

By the way, the $1.9 billion settlement the government will recoup from HSBC is close to the almost $1.8 billion in asset forfeitures the federal government took from us “inessential economic cogs” in 2010.  That figure does not include what state and local agencies took from us in drug asset forfeiture cases.

Republished with special permission from the National Cannabis Coalition


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. Drug money is such a big part of the global financial system that it cannot exist without some kind of laundering effort by the big banks. They are all guilty in some form or another.

    The Supreme Court supports the notion that corporations are individuals with the same rights as otherwise real people. This precedent mostly benefits corporations since corporations cannot be incarcerated. This may be grounds for discrimination if the courts refuse to imprison the corporation for the crime or the executives responsible for the company’s activities. Also, if a real person suffers incarceration for their crime and corporations only pay a fine (the law is not equally applied), then there must be some form of discrimination concerning the rights of an individual and the rights of a corporation.

    The DEA has stated on many occasions that drug money supports terrorism. Corporate entities commit crimes against the America government when they launder money from criminal organizations that are acting as terrorist organizations or assist terror organizations engaged in conflict (the drug war) with the nation. The first offense that comes to mind is treason. Usually a treasonous offense is punishable by death, but in the case of the corporation there is no real entity to execute.

    My solution (proposal) is simple. Corporations that commit severe crimes must pay a percentage of income as a fine and the corporation must cease all business practices for a period of time (depending on the severity of the crime), while still paying their non-executive workforce (one month to six months or more). This would prevent corporations from setting aside money for fines when they engage in risky business practices.

    Just like a real person that loses freedom and the ability to support themselves when they are incarcerated, the corporation would also lose the ability to support themselves which could be a death blow to their business. This virtual incarceration will send a message to corporations. If they break the law the “corporation” (the corporate entity itself) will suffer the consequences of its actions.

    In the case for a bank, the bank would lose its customers as they transfer their money to other institutions during the bank’s period of incarceration. Corporate stock prices would plummet as investors try to sell the stock to fend off loses. Since corporations are only interested in creating profit for their share holders this would force the corporation (CEO, board of directors) to abide by the laws in order to prevent criminal offenses on all levels. This simple act would force corporate executives and board members to monitor the activities of all the employees and its subsidiaries.

    Monetary fines are not the solution to the problem of corporate malfeasance. Time is the key, and in the corporate environment time is something that cannot be recovered.

    Just a thought…

  2. These guys are all criminals. Don’t get stressed about it. Stress kills. Money can get them out of almost anything. That is the way of the world and it’s only gonna get worse. People won’t take action until they are hungry and without shelter. By then the gubment will taken all our guns so change will be hard. I’m getting stressed. Time for some green dragon!

  3. Good article, Russ! – When we start focusing on the money backing the fraudulent marijuana prohibition, the end will definitely be near!

    It would be great if we had a rebirth of investigative journalism, and they would dig up how much HSBC, and other robber barons, have paid to lobby for prohibition.

  4. Has anyone seen the youtube video The Money Masters? It’s about three and half hours long.

    If you have, what do you think, thumbs up or down?

  5. More insanity in a War that’s gone on too long. I think it was Wells Fargo about 2 years ago who got outted for laundering Cartel dollars.

    All this while the Cannabis Industry struggles to do legitimate business with banks.

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