Jeff Filliter was working at a bank in Canada when he was flown to Mexico City to investigate the murder of a 41-year-old branch manager who was last seen entering the back seat of a black Jaguar after work a few days earlier. What Filliter, a CFE and investigator of more than 40 years, relayed to attendees at the 2017 ACFE Fraud Conference Canada in Toronto earlier this month was a story straight out of a Netflix series. The six-year, multijurisdictional fraud and money laundering investigation is also the subject of Filliter’s newly released book, The Shallowest of Men.
When Filliter and his team arrived in Mexico City, they quickly learned that the Mexican authorities had no intention of investigating the case. It even looked as if those responsible for the murder of the branch manager knew the crime wouldn’t be taken seriously. Her body was found discarded in a ditch with a large plastic bag branded with a hotel name and blood-laden latex gloves. (Remember the bag and the gloves. They will become important later.) The evidence was still there when Filliter arrived to the scene several days after the local authorities. “It was evident that the authorities were not anxious to investigate this crime,” Filliter said. “I went into the office to turn in the evidence and they said ‘we will not take it because you may have planted it.’ The police were disinterested.”
In hopes of finding any critical information, the bank’s investigative team decided to attend the funeral to take photographs of the people in attendance, as well as visit the hotel whose name was on the bag found at the murder scene. The hotel manager showed Filliter and his team video footage from the day of the murder and they identified a former employee of the bank carrying a bag similar to the one found next to the body of the branch manager.
They also wanted to look into the accounts the branch manager oversaw. According to Filliter, it didn’t take long to identify a discrepancy between an investor’s statements and what was actually in his account. “The discrepancy was $23 million, and we realized that it was transferred from Mexico City to accounts at a bank in Switzerland.”
Filliter traveled to Switzerland expecting to file a criminal complaint and receive the records of the account accepting money from Mexico City. But he soon realized that without the right connections and insight, the case would go nowhere fast. “Through the ACFE, the best networking organization I have ever known, we identified a general counsel in Geneva,” he said. “He took our case to a judge and filed a criminal complaint. We said we need to get the records, but the laws in Switzerland make it virtually impossible to get documents. The attorney reached out to the judge and within two months he had 16 bankers’ boxes of documents in his office.”
The statements showed that the branch manager had falsified statements in an attempt to show that the money was safely in an account in Mexico City even though it was not. A former employee of the bank who worked with the branch manager had set up accounts in the name of the investor, using photos he had obtained from the branch manager, and deposited the $23 million. However, the millions didn’t stay in the investment account in Switzerland. It was laundered and moved offshore to accounts in Kansas and Arizona, registered to aircraft companies.
“We couldn’t imagine why someone would move money from Mexico City to Switzerland to the U.S.” Filliter said. “Compliments of the ACFE again, we were introduced to (bank) investigators in the states. One recipient account was registered to a company in Ireland, the other to a company in Delaware. We determined that these were shell companies with registered owners and signatories who were Mexican nationals, and known high-ranking operatives of the second largest drug cartel in Mexico.”
According to Filliter, the Mexican cartel was responsible for everything and had used the proceeds from the fraud to purchase two aircraft, which were subsequently moved to Mexico and reregistered there, in contravention of FAA rules and regulations. Working with a confidential informant who monitored the activity of the two aircraft, it was established that they were being used in the transshipment of cocaine throughout Mexico. The informant, on the tail of the flights taken by the aircraft, alerted Filliter when he saw that a flight plan had been filed for one of the planes to fly from Mexico City to Fort Lauderdale. “In three hours, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) had a search and seizure warrant on the ground for that plane when it landed in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “This was a drug-operated, cartel-owned plane. On that plane was the leader of the opposition party for the federal government of Mexico, three months away from the next federal election, and way ahead in the polls. He lost the election as a direct result of this. If you want to talk about the levels to which corruption exists in Mexico, there is your answer.”
Throughout the investigation, Filliter and his team encountered roadblock after roadblock, but perhaps the most devastating events were the ones that resulted in the loss of life. In addition to the branch manager’s murder, the hotel manager who showed Filliter and his team the footage from the day of the murder was killed within three hours of sharing the video. And one of Filliter’s friends, an ICE agent, who had agreed to help him process the bloody latex gloves in hopes of finding DNA evidence, was murdered. “They left for Monterrey and their vehicle was ambushed by three cars, and seven people opened fire on my friend and his partner,” Filliter said in between moments of silence. “They killed the ICE officer and wounded his partner. No one has ever been investigated or charged. They stole the latex gloves and they have never been analyzed.”
According to Filliter, as grim as this story is, it isn’t without justice and includes a message not to be forgotten. The former bank employee was charged with fraud and money laundering, and sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which he served nine. “I wrote this book for two reasons: one is to expose and identify the corruption that exists in Mexico,” Filliter said. “The second reason is to be the voice of those who can no longer speak for themselves. My friend’s message will not be forgotten. What he did and gave his life for will not be forgotten.”
Filliter also left attendees with a message of hope and a message of unity in the ongoing fight against fraud. “There is a thin blue line that people talk about; the border, the protective shield that exists between law enforcement officers,” he said. “But, the thin blue line extends beyond law enforcement because each and every one of you in this room plays a role that is absolutely important to the prevention of fraud. It is important that you remain committed to this cause. Please, I beg of you: never diminish the important role that you all play in the prevention of fraud. Without you, we are lost.”