Written by: Sarah Kossoy
At the local level of law enforcement, the connection between financial crimes and other crimes can be unfamiliar and overlooked. With the federal level conducting the majority of investigations, it takes the weight off local law enforcement, but it also prevents these officers from understanding this intricate type of crime that often bleeds into other crimes they are already involved in investigating. The same issues are often seen when it comes to human trafficking cases. With both crimes becoming a more apparent part of local law enforcement, there are resources available to officers and agencies who wish to utilize them.
Human trafficking is an often-misunderstood crime that law enforcement officers sometimes struggle to find relevant to their day-to-day activities. Although this is understandable, human trafficking is actually more prevalent in their lives than they believe. In fact, it may be a crucial factor in influencing other crimes that they are regularly coming across, such as prostitution, drug use, domestic violence, truancy, and having questionable amounts of cash.
It is understood by experts that financial crimes and human trafficking are often present when the latter is taking place. Traffickers use SUA’s (single use accounts) to conceal proceeds and move money through the process of money laundering. This knowledge has influenced the new checkbox in the Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (finCEN)’s Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) database for banks to report potential human trafficking. With the fairly recent development of the Anti-Trafficking Intelligence Initiative (ATII)’s Project Hades, which has made way for more productive dark web analytics, law enforcement can now utilize Project Hades alongside SARS’s 9 million reports filed yearly to cross-reference data while investigating human trafficking and exploitation cases. Alma Angotti, a Partner in Guidehouse’s Financial Services segment, and ATII Advisory Council Member. explains,
“sometimes banks will identify suspicious activity and file a SAR, but they won’t know that the funds are actually the proceeds of trafficking. Getting this dark web information into the hands of law enforcement makes it easier for them to connect those dots and prosecute those who benefit from the trafficking of human beings. ATII is an invaluable resource that links traffickers with the money they are moving,”
For those law enforcement agencies that have implemented human trafficking investigations, there are still challenges that they face. One example of a roadblock is the new laws condemning human trafficking coinciding with previously existing laws criminalizing prostitution. One study mentioned in a paper published by the Police Executive Research Forum discovered that some prostitution arrests have diminished in some areas due to the new laws, but other places have seen a rise in arrests. Although this data may seem a bit odd, some law enforcement agencies are using prostitution arrests to remove victims from the environment and to “encourage them to cooperate with the investigation for reduced or dropped charges” (Police Executive Research Forum p.24).
There are many individuals and organizations combatting human trafficking who disagree with this latter method, stating that law enforcement training on the subject is lacking crucial criteria. They suggest using a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach because a victim’s first point of contact within the criminal justice system is with a local law enforcement officer. How the scenario plays out essentially “sets the tone for a victim’s subsequent interactions with the system, and influences whether victims will be willing to participate in an investigation.” (Police Executive Research Forum p.24). It has been found that the better training available, the less likely law enforcement officers are to mishandle the situation. However, there needs to be two urgencies that influence this change. The first requirement is a community-based perception that there is a current ‘need’ for addressing human trafficking violations. The second requirement is for the top of command to push for more investigations while maintaining officer discrepancy for addressing complex variables and situations. It may seem strange that the latter is not already happening, but the truth is that prosecuting human trafficking cases is extremely difficult, and almost impossible if victims do not cooperate with the full investigation. With other crimes also occurring frequently, the decision is often made that human trafficking investigations are just not worth the time and energy in regards to the more frequent end result. In order for better training to be funded and provided to officers regardless of rank, both of these requirements above must be addressed in some way.
However, there is a major issue with the perceived discrepancy between financial crimes, human trafficking, and other criminal activities, paired with the inconsistency of investigations into financial crimes and human trafficking. FinCEN is offering tools to make this easier. They created a suite of products that can be used by Law Enforcement agencies to deter, identify, and investigate significant financial crimes, including terrorist financing, money laundering, and human trafficking.
FINCEN’s Office of Law Enforcement Support (OLE) Services
FinCEN’s Office of Law Enforcement Support (OLE) provides useful services to law enforcement agencies that request their help. These available resources are networking, analytical reports, software, maps and charts, and training. OLE will both provide analytical support for investigations and will share appropriate information with the agencies that have requested finCEN support. According to their website, finCEN’s office of Law Enforcement Support will:
- Support law enforcement efforts to deter, identify, and investigate significant financial crimes, including terrorist financing and money laundering
- Provide expert analysis of financial data gathered under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)
- Provide expert research and analysis of financial and other data from a variety of law enforcement, commercial, and open sources
- Leverage all of FinCEN’s resources and subject matter expertise as our nation’s financial intelligence unit
OLE also provides access to their Analytical System for Investigative Support (ASIS). This program includes the ASIS Case Management Database and the ASIS User Tool Suite. The Case Management Database is designed to “track, and analyze subject profiles, activities, and assets throughout the development of a case”, and the User Tool Suite “features queries, forms, and reports designed to display and analyze BSA (Bank Security Act) reports, including SARs, CTRs, Forms 8300, and CMIRs.” Training in using these programs is also available.
There are 3 types of reports provided by the OLE; financial intelligence reports, assessments, and white papers. A financial intelligence report is an analysis of “financial transactions, subject identifiers, assets, travel, disciplinary, and/or criminal records of case subjects that includes information extracted from databases and analysis of connections among subjects, money flows, and suspicious activities” (OLEPamphlet). The assessment is a broad understanding of the BSA, including identifying patterns, trends, and actionable findings that might be useful for large cases or sweeps, or policy-level decision making. These reports often also include supplemental material, such as charts and maps for visual representation, and other beneficial documents or information. Not only are these tools provided to law enforcement agencies, but guidance in using SARS is offered, and governmental case assistance is available if requested.
The aforementioned information has painted an accurate picture of how human trafficking and financial crimes can be deeply intertwined with one another. This very reason has pushed an accelerated need for banks to report suspicious activity to finCEN, and for law enforcement officers at all levels to be utilizing SARs. However, there is another necessary factor that should be incorporated into this equation.
“We commonly discuss public and private sector partnerships working to combat financial crimes, and when we do, we’re usually referring to private-sector financial institutions filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with finCEN, working with their Office of Law Enforcement Support (OLE), and working with the public law enforcement agencies who utilize SARs. What we must include is a third group that can provide a deep understanding and breadth of knowledge of specific crime typologies, and when it comes to human trafficking, that third group is ATII. Their knowledge of, and data on, human trafficking is a critical addition to the traditional public/private sector partnership.” – Jim Richards, Founder & Principal of RegTech Consulting LLC, and ATII Advisory Council Member.
Police Executive Research Forum. (2020) ‘How Local Police Can Combat the Global Problem of Human Trafficking: Collaboration, Training, Support for Victims, and Technology Are Keys to Success’, Critical Issues in Policing Theory [online]. https://www.policeforum.org/assets/CombatHumanTrafficking.pdf [Accessed: August 5, 2021].
United States Department of the Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Office of Law Enforcement Support. (2021) OLEPamphlet.
https://www.fincen.gov/sites/default/files/shared/OLEPamphlet.pdf [Accessed: August 3, 2021].