(CHICAGO) -- More than 600 police officers and other officials from 33 countries attended a five day conference here on organized crime where the message was that globalization has hit illegal businesses just as with legitimate enterprise.
Deputy Chicago Police Chief Hiram Grau said in an interview Monday that investigators must "learn to follow the money." And that leads them to some surprising places -- like the official at a small college who embezzled and laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The conference: "Beyond the Rhetoric: Confronting the Changing Face of Organized Crime," included activities and workshops from Aug. 6 through Aug. 10. In workshops, law enforcement officers from as far away as Albania, Thailand and Australia exchanged information about the new criminal activities organized groups are now involved in. In addition to the traditional crimes involving narcotics and theft, new criminal activities include identity theft and trafficking in human cargo, both undocumented migrants and women lured from their homelands to work as prostitutes.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who addressed the conference on Aug. 7, called for stiffer sentences aimed at money laundering. He cited one example of a man caught boarding a plane in Puerto Rico with $139,000 in cash stuffed into his socks. But the man's only crime was failing to report the money to customs officials, so he faced only a short prison term.
The U.S. Justice Department is drafting new legislation that would allow confiscation of smuggled cash that would allow prosecution of money launderers in the United States who handle cash obtained from crimes committed in other countries.
Other speakers included Luis F. Gilbert Vargas, director general of the Colombian National Police; Richard C. Clarke, coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism with the National Security Council; and Howard Schmidt, vice president for security at Microsoft Corp.
Grau said that in Chicago even street gangs have become more sophisticated -- using their illegal profits to set up legal businesses that can then be used to launder more money. They have also become more adept at using wireless technology and computers in their businesses.
"Yesterday's pickpocket is today's identity thief," said Chicago Police Superintendent Terry G. Hillard.
"The street-corner hustlers of old are today's money launderers who perform their crimes with relative anonymity."
But Grau acknowledged that in many ways the new law enforcement techniques are a more sophisticated version of traditional ones. During Prohibition, federal agents finally succeeded in prosecuting Al Capone -- by following his legal and illegal financial dealings and nailing him for income tax evasion.