Humberto Aguilar’s life* has been a study of polarizing contrasts. He told conference attendees at Wednesday’s general session that after graduating from the University of Florida Law school in 1978, he wanted “to be the best criminal lawyer” he could be. Yet, shortly after beginning his law practice he began laundering money for his drug-dealer clients. He was in the running for a state judgeship, but, in 1990, he was indicted on 27 counts of racketeering, money laundering and other charges for assisting his clients. “I went to prison because I committed a crime,” but he also said, “I never considered myself a criminal.” He was a peace-loving attorney who never stole from his clients, but he shot two hit men in a defensive gunfight — wounding one and killing another.
Aguilar, the son of Cuban refugees, said defending others was “the most rewarding and enjoyable thing I’ve ever done in my life.” However, those others — 1980s Miami drug runners — soon became his buddies. “One of my clients came to me and said, ‘look, I’ve got a problem.’ ” The problem was that the client had storage containers packed with $100 bills that he couldn’t spend.
Aguilar didn’t know how to launder money, but soon his Miami attorney friends tutored him in the finer points of washing bucks. He first went to Panama to set up shell corporations and foster “relationships” with private bankers by slipping them envelopes of $5,000, $8,000, $10,000, $15,000. He recalls one banker admiring his $25,000 Rolex diamond bezel watch. So, Aguiliar slipped it off his wrist and gave it to his new banker “friend.” “Now he’s in cahoots with me,” Aguilar said. “If I go down, he goes down. … I’ve got someone in the system who’s allowing me to put the money in.”
Aguilar then would send boxes of his clients’ cash in sailboats and ships headed to Panama to pick up drugs. He or a trusted rep would be on the dock to retrieve the money and deliver it to the banks. He then would move the money around the globe to other banks in Jersey (not that state next to New York but the island off Normandy, France), Guernsey, the Isle of Mann, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg and — of course Switzerland. Poof — sparkling, shiny cash that drug dealers could now spend like water in Miami investments.
For a few years, Aguilar and his attorney partners were enjoying the high life. He had eight cars, multiple houses, clothes, jewelry — the usual over-the-top excess. “But, I was too young to know what I was doing,” he said. “I tell people that there should be a law that if you’re under 30 you’re not allowed to make $1 million. Because you don’t appreciate it. You say after the first million, eh, I can make another one. And when money has no value to you, and it doesn’t, you get to the point where you ask someone, ‘Do you want to get lunch in Paris?’ Now that sounds so stupid now, but I did that.”
He said he eventually became the shark with an entourage of attached parasite feeders. After the birth of his twins, the money-laundering life didn’t make much sense. “The stress was starting to get to me,” he said. So he applied for a Florida judgeship, and his name — along with two others — was sent to the governor. A story made the Miami Herald and, apparently, some client — who didn’t want the exposure Judge Aguilar might give him — sent some hitmen to his home one night to ambush him as he drove up his driveway. Aguilar ducked behind his porch and began spraying bullets; he caught one assailant in the knee and sent another to his grave.
After that, Aguilar hightailed it to New York, but the feds eventually arrested him for his many felonies. He jumped his $3 million bond, packed up his family, changed his name to David Omar Ocampo Andrade and settled into two apartments in Spain. Eventually, the money ran out and he sent his wife and kids back to the states. Aguilar laid low working minimum-wage jobs and communicating with his wife through coded messages. That meager life also ended one day when Interpol caught up with him.
He spent 29 months in a hellhole Spanish prison while he fought extradition. He lost his fight, was shipped back to the U.S., was convicted and spent 77 months in a federal prison. After he got out, he worked his way up the management ladder at a hotel and then began working at a nonprofit, Suits for Success, which counsels released felons on job searches and provides them with interview clothes.
He now writes for the Money Laundering Bulletin and Complinet.com, speaks to law enforcement groups and — contrast of all contrasts — assists in money-laundering investigations of worldwide terrorist organizations.
“Was it worth it?” he asks. “No. Was it fun? Yes!” Despite the toll on his family, his mental health and the years spent in prison, he still enjoyed the riches — for a while. “I never considered myself a criminal. I really haven’t,” he said. “I’ve never hurt anybody, and at the end of the day I’m trying to do everything possible to somehow amend the damage I’ve done to society.”
*The ACFE doesn’t compensate convicted fraudsters.