South Carolina needs a law to regulate businesses that wire money and provide other financial services, according to the Beaufort County sheriff and some other law enforcement officials, who say criminals use such businesses to launder money.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner plans to meet with a group of lawmakers this month in Columbia to urge them to close a loophole that he says allows billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains to be laundered each year.
South Carolina and Montana are the only states without laws allowing state and local agencies to license, investigate, fine and close errant money-service businesses, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
According to the FBI, the businesses have become the primary method for transferring money to finance numerous criminal enterprises, including the violent Mexican drug trade and international terrorism.
State and local police officials and prosecutors have said they have little chance of preventing criminals from moving their money out of South Carolina without a new law.
A bill filed last year that would give the S.C. Attorney General's Office oversight of the businesses hasn't advanced since the new legislative session started last week, according to legislative records.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-North Myrtle Beach, introduced a bill in February giving the Attorney General's Office authority to "attack the ongoing misuse of money-service businesses." But the bill lacked specifics and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Tanner said he is confident lawmakers will realize it's important to close the loophole and has enlisted Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, to help steer the bill.
"There are so many issues that go before the General Assembly each year that I'm not surprised there isn't more awareness," Tanner said. "There's not been a lot of information out there about this, and I know the more information we put out there, the more attention this issue will receive."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.