Federal Agents Seize $3M Worth of Cars in “Biggest Smuggling Racket”

The Venezuelan billionaire known as the “master money launderer” found his car smuggling ring busted in Florida. There are 81 cars from Toyotas to exotics sitting on the Port Everglades dock that won’t be headed to Venezuela. Instead, they’ll be headed for the auction block with the proceeds going to the US government. Federal agents seize $3 million worth of cars in what it calls the “biggest smuggling racket in South Florida history.”

Caracas billionaire Raúl Gorrín was setting up shell companies and straw buyers to buy cars then ship them to Venezuela. The Latin American nation has US sanctions levied against it making it illegal to ship US exports there. He has pending charges for stealing from the Venezuelan government and then trying to launder the money in the US.

There’s no telling how many cars slipped through Port Everglades to Venezuela

Loading cars at the port | Getty

Homeland Security says he bought the vehicles to distribute to politically connected Venezuelans as well as the police in his homeland.  “This is a drop in the bucket,” HSI special agent in charge Anthony Salisbury told the Miami Herald. “There’s no telling how many cars slipped through Port Everglades to Venezuela before the first unlawful car was intercepted this spring.”

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Some of the vehicles are optioned a bit oddly possibly identifying their intended use. There‘s a black Lexus SUV equipped with some sort of police package with lights and siren. Then there’s a Toyota Tundra resplendent in Army green. 

“These cars are going down to kleptocrats like Gorrín and his associates to live their billionaire lifestyles while the people of Venezuela are starving to death,” Salisbury said. “You can’t get your hands on vehicles like these down there.” An attorney for Gorrín condemned Homeland Security’s allegations saying his client “has nothing to do with this fake news backed up by zero evidence.”

Customs found numerous vehicles with false paperwork or identification numbers scratched off

Loading cars at the port | Getty

The feds were tipped off earlier this year when its office in Bogota, Columbia, informed it of the ring and that the cars were being shipped through Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. When Customs started checking car shipments it found numerous vehicles with false paperwork or vehicle identification numbers scratched off. Especially suspicious were SUVs equipped with police packages. 

Authorities are warning dealers in South Florida to be suspicious of all-cash deals. They could be charged with violating anti-money-laundering laws. “The amount the Venezuelan kleptocrats are laundering is staggering,” Salisbury said. “Drug traffickers launder hundreds of millions of dollars. The Venezuelan kleptocrats are laundering billions.”

Gorrín’s attorney dug in, “The US government claims that these 81 cars represent proceeds of foreign corruption of which the people of Venezuela are the victims. Yet the US government intends to forfeit the cars, auction them off and keep the money for itself, returning nothing to the purported Venezuelan victims. And the US government says Gorrín is a thief?”