This is a work of fiction.
It is inspired—and loosely informed—by the real-life case of Wachovia Bank. Between 2004 and 2007, the bank failed to apply proper money-laundering controls to at least 378 billion dollars' worth of transfers to and from Mexican casas de cambio, currency exchange houses.
In doing so, Wachovia created what federal authorities later described as an open channel between Mexican drug cartels and the US banking system. Wachovia, which has since been acquired by Wells Fargo, collected billions of dollars in fees for this service.
It is unknown what portion of the casas de cambio money was legitimate and what was illicit drug profits. The US Drug Enforcement Administration discovered the arrangement only by following the paper trail relating to the Sinaloa drug cartel's purchase of a DC-9 plane that had been seized in Mexico, laden with cocaine. Wachovia eventually paid 160 million dollars to settle a federal investigation into what was then the largest violation of the US Bank Secrecy Act ever uncovered.
As significant as the fine was, it was only a fraction of what Wachovia made off its casas de cambio business. Then there is the larger context: the so-called war on drugs, which the United States has waged since the 1970s.
Largely because of this war, a country founded on principles of freedom and democracy now incarcerates its citizens at a higher rate than Russia and China combined. The vast majority of those offenses are petty, street-level crimes that are, monetarily, many orders of magnitude less than the one committed by Wachovia.
And yet no Wachovia executive faced criminal charges, nor served a single day in prison.
That's why this is a work of fiction.
Because who could believe something so preposterous?
Gotta find my corner of the sky.
—Pippin, from Pippin
They confronted him shortly after dark, maybe thirty feet from the safety of his car.
Kris Langetieg—husband, father, affable redhead—had just emerged from a school-board meeting. He was walking head down alongside the lightly trafficked side street where he had parked, eager to get home to his family, distracted enough that he didn't notice the two men until they were already bracketing him on the narrow sidewalk. One in front, one behind.
Langetieg recognized them immediately. The guys from the cartel. His loafers skidded on a fine layer of West Virginia grit as he came to a halt. A thin summer sweat covered his upper lip.
"Hello again," one of them said.
The one in front. The one with the gun.
"What do you want?" Langetieg asked, sweat now popping on his brow. "I already told you no."
"Exactly," the other one said.
The one behind. The one closing fast.
Langetieg braced himself. He was a big man. Big and soft. Panic seized him.
A man in front. A man behind. A fence to his right. A truck to his left. All the cardinal points blocked, and his car might as well have been in Ohio. Still, if he could get his legs under him, if he could get his arms up, if he could get some breath in his lungs...
Then the current entered him: twelve hundred volts of brain-jarring juice, delivered through the wispy tendrils of a police-grade Taser. Langetieg dropped to the ground, his muscles locked in contraction.
The doors of a nearby panel van opened, and two more men emerged. Both were Mexican and built like wrestlers, low to the ground and practical. They picked up Langetieg's helpless bulk and dumped it in the back of the van.