This sprawling account of a drug and money-laundering case eventually gets bogged down in its own details. Woolner,...


WASHED IN GOLD: The Story Behind the Biggest Money-Laundering Investigation in U.S. History

This sprawling account of a drug and money-laundering case eventually gets bogged down in its own details. Woolner, associate editor at the Fulton County Daily Report, a legal newspaper in Atlanta, begins promisingly. In 1986, Ramón Costello (a pseudonym), an American living in Colombia caught in a cocaine deal, agreed in a plea bargain with Atlanta-based federal prosecutors to help set up a money-laundering operation to catch big-time drug traffickers. Costello then linked undercover federal agents with an associate connected to another money-laundering investigation in Los Angeles, and he himself met with notorious Colombian traffickers Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar. Woolner uses reconstructed dialogue to advance the story, as well as close description of episodes like an antsy moment in a New York City restaurant: New York area Drug Enforcement Agency agents who were throwing a party in a restaurant had to pretend not to recognize an Atlanta DEA agent who, as part of an undercover operation, had brought a money launderer to eat paella and deal in the same restaurant. However, the narrative grows too big for Woolner to handle clearly. A DEA operation uncovered La Mina (The Mine), a money laundry working out of Los Angeles and New York City. Competing agents from those cities, as well as from Atlanta, refused for a long time to recognize the links among their cases, and interagency turf wars also hampered investigation. Then, in February 1989, agents arrested money launderers in the LA and NYC jewelry districts. Prosecutors also got a guilty plea from a dirty Panamanian bank. Although the sham money-laundering operation organized by Costello didn't bring in a major Colombian drug dealer, it did net an associate launderer, Eduardo Martínez. An interesting story, but this book flits so messily among characters and settings that it becomes wearying.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994


Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paramount

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994