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Balderas announces anti-money laundering initiative

LAS CRUCES — New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday announced a new anti-money laundering initiative to train local prosecutors, starting in southern New Mexico.

Balderas,HectorAt a press conference alongside 3rd Judicial District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, Balderas said the initiative will boost prosecutors’ ability to go after the proceeds earned by criminals at the U.S.-Mexico border — particularly transnational organizations involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling or other schemes.

D’Antonio’s office will be the first to receive trainings under the “Follow the Money” initiative. Balderas said he’ll eventually take the trainings across the state.

“We have to begin to attack the money flow of illegal activity, most importantly transnational money flow,” Balderas said. “There is no doubt that New Mexico is a high-risk area because of its proximity to Mexico and most importantly because of our impoverished resources. We are an easy target.”

“I welcome the training because, folks, we want to be proactive,” said D’Antonio, a former federal prosecutor and FBI agent. “We want to train prosecutors and law enforcement officers how to detect and prosecute money laundering. We all know that if you want to follow drugs or any danger, follow the money to the bad guys.”

Balderas has promised to sharpen the state’s focus on investigating and prosecuting money laundering and human trafficking cases.

The attorney general’s Anti-Money Laundering unit is currently investigating 13 cases ranging from an alleged oil theft scheme in the eastern part of the state, to a possible “large-scale” money laundering operation in southern New Mexico, to an alleged transnational methamphetamine smuggling case that includes money laundering crimes.

On the human trafficking front, the state has prosecuted and won convictions or guilty pleas in 18 of 19 human trafficking cases — all involving sex trafficking — since 2008.

Last year, the state won a $1.5 million federal grant to combat human trafficking in the state, money that is earmarked to train law enforcement and prosecutors. Some of the funding will pay for training under the “Follow the Money” initiative, according to a spokesman for the attorney general.

“We’re going to utilize skilled prosecutors from our office and we’re going to lend those prosecutors to develop case-specific trainings for the prosecutors here,” Balderas said.

“I wanted to start in Las Cruces because of its proximity to the border,” he said.