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This chapter is from the book

From America to South America: Ties Get Stronger in the Tri-Border Region

South America's Tri-Border Area has been a lucrative region for Hezbollah. Because of its dense population, designated free-trade area, access to ports (Puerto Iguazu, Argentina), hidden air strips, and minimal law enforcement presence, smuggling merchandise is a significant way in which sympathizers raise funds. And it's taking place within U.S. borders.

The connection to the Tri-Border Area has deep roots in the U.S. Within a couple months of each other, two men were arrested in connection with providing material support to the Hezbollah in the Tri-Border Area in the form of smuggled and stolen merchandise. Moussa Ali Hamdan, a 38-year-old native of Lebanon, was a naturalized citizen of the U.S. By day he worked as a carpet installer from 2007 to 2008. He then operated a low-end car dealership. During that period he bought more than $154,000 worth of what he thought were stolen electronics and cars from undercover agents.55 While he sold some of the stolen product for personal profit, he was allegedly smuggling merchandise to South America, with the proceeds benefitting the Hezbollah, according to court documents.

What Hamdan didn't know was that his smuggling was also playing a pivotal role in helping law enforcement investigate high-level Hezbollah operatives who were selling counterfeit cash to purchase assault weapons to be shipped overseas. Using the money made from the sale of stolen and smuggled merchandise, Hezbollah operatives worked "18 hours a day producing high-quality counterfeit currency for the Hezbollah."56 In addition, Hamdan helped his co-conspirator and well-connected Hezbollah operative, Dib Hani Harb (who was also involved in producing the counterfeit currency), broker a meeting between the FBI informant and Hassan Hodroj, a member of Hezbollah's political bureau in Beirut. Hodroj requested 1,200 Colt M4 machine guns, a model used by U.S. special forces, for which Hodroj said he would pay $1,800 per gun.57 "His arrest there underscores the global nature and reach of Hezbollah's financial and logistic support," said Levitt in an interview with me.

Prior to Hamdan's arrest, three men in Miami were also arrested for selling stolen Sony PlayStation 2 consoles, cameras, and other electronics to the Galeria Page mall in Cuidad del Este in Paraguay, which we will delve into later in the book. The men, Khaled T. Safadi, Ulises Talavera, and Emilio Gonzalez-Neira, created a sophisticated ring that involved buyers, sellers, and freight forwarders, as well as people who could create fake documents and invoices.

"While engaging in criminal activity often increases a group's vulnerability by further exposing them to scrutiny of law enforcement authorities, Hezbollah's reliance on fellow sympathizers and members of local expatriate communities minimizes that potential exposure," says Levitt. "Hezbollah is very criminally oriented for its fundraising in the U.S., including legitimate and illegitimate business activities."58

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. With such a large portion of money from ORC theft up for grabs and because of the federal government's unwillingness to prosecute these criminals as felons, the problem continues to grow at an astronomical rate. Retailers and government officials have one option—step up their game, or keep putting their country at risk.

And as if the state of national security weren't enough, another group is also being severely affected by ORC—the consumer.

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