Partnerships between the private and public sector are often touted as the answer to confront illicit finance. But how do professionals from two distinctly different types of organizations work together if they don’t “speak the same language?” Solving this issue was the focus of a day two session at ACAMS 2016, “Partnering with Law Enforcement to Leverage Investigative Resources.”

“You can’t detect what you don’t know about,” said Jim Dinkins, senior vice president and director of operations for Enterprise Financial Crimes Compliance, US Bank. With more than 28 years in law enforcement, and also former vice president and general manager of Thomson Reuters Special Services, Dinkins was one of the architects of the Cornerstone Outreach Program.

Launched in 2004, the Cornerstone Outreach Program was started as a way for law enforcement to reach out to the financial industry – through conferences and one-on-one meetings – to share information on AML strategies, build relationships and more. 

Angel Nguyen, vice president of Enterprise AML Operations and Financial Intelligence Unit, American Express, and a former prosecutor in New York, saw the value of these partnerships early on in her career, particularly citing how it was crucial to learn to “be able to speak the same language” to effectively prosecute financial crimes. 

“Law enforcement has to become more sensitive and share information… and financial institutions need to more [comfortable] in sharing with law enforcement,” Dinkins remarked. 

He noted that for the financial sector, many professionals – particularly those in compliance – are accustomed to speaking with law enforcement only when something has gone wrong. For Dinkins, the goal is to develop partnerships that feed the tips and information that law enforcement rely upon every day. His recommendation was to establish a policy that addresses law enforcement outreach, citing the example that when a bank files a suspicious activity report (SAR), it could lead to a broader illicit finance case worthy of a deeper look. Another recommendation was to create a law enforcement liaison position to “proactively collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders. 

Dinkins noted that this level of proactive collaboration will be key to confronting home-grown terror. After all, financial institutions have better tools to track the data and banking habits of potential suspects – for example, are they moving large sums of money, purchasing weapons of other suspicious materials, etc.

Lee Brown, an agent with ICE/HSI, Department of Homeland Security, explained that law enforcement can learn from the financial industry as well. A specific example he noted was how law enforcement can learn from the AML professionals in the private sector on how to put records together to build a prosecution case. 

Nguyen noted a case where narcotics officers in New York were workiing to bust a suspected narcotics sales operation in a hotel. When officers confronted the suspects, instead of finding drugs, they found that the suspects were carrying blank plastic cards. In a serendipitous turn, the suspects led the officers to a room in the hotel where they found cash, incriminating photos and more. It turned out that the white cards were coded with financial data and the officers had stumbled onto an international card skimming scheme. As Nguyen noted, some in law enforcement still need to learn just how sophisticated financial crimes can be and know that they can involve schemes that are “not just about money.”

Steve Gurdak, group supervisor, Washington Baltimore HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), noted that law enforcement can’t just stumble into financial crimes, “they need to be prepared” so that they know how to manage the unique rules and standards of the financial industry. 

Dinkins noted that law enforcement or prosecutors can go to a bank’s legal department, or file a subpoena, or can call the in-house investigations team and get the same information from the bank – who will also be in contact with legal – and get the data to law enforcement faster. 

Nguyen suggested that the public and private sector envision a sandbox, working to share tools and strategies to work together and “build a sand castle.” While it seems simplistic, her vision certainly seemed like a plausible approach to collaboration. 

“At the very least, you build great relationships,” she concluded. “Anything that leads you to new data, or a new lead, is a huge success.”