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Book Reviews: Brad Meltzer: The Millionaires


The Millionaires
Terrorism in the phone books

Last year, bestselling novelist Brad Meltzer published a thriller about a wild President's daughter just as George W. Bush's daughters were getting in trouble. This time, in "The Millionaires" (January 8, Warner Books), he writes about hiding and tracking dirty money across the globe -- just as the government tries to hone in on Osama bin Laden's assets.

More important, The Millionaires is filled with secrets he learned from interviewing the government's top money-tracking investigators -- and points out how easy it is for the terrorists to keep moving their funds. Even though it's fiction, the book reads like a how-to guide for hiding dirty money. A sampling of the secrets:

- Find The Stutterers (aka the first alphabetical listings in the phone book, like AAAAAAA Auto Mechanics or AAAAAAAAA Appliances. For lawyers, it's AAAAAAA Attorney's. While most are just ambulance chasers, a few are, shall we say, a little on the shadier side. "I once found one who wouldn't give his name -- he just kept asking, "Whattya need? Whattya need?" Meltzer says. "All the terrorists need is a phone book and they're off..."

- Check your in-flight magazines. Y'know those magazine that're in the seatback pocket on every airline? Take a look at the classified ads that run in the back. That's where they always put the ads for hiding money offshore. You've seen them: "Sick of the IRS? Take your money offshore." "Even if we shut down every front organization that's funneling money for bin Laden, new resources are just a classified ad away."

- Know the Rule of Five. A single transfer to the Cayman Islands is always suspicious, but if you take five normal transfers (say, from the U.S. to England), no one will raise an eyebrow. From England, France is a common transfer. From France, Latvia isn't too far off. From there, you send it to Nauru, then to Antigua. After five countries, it'll take the government weeks -- and sometimes months -- to figure out where it is.

- Know how to Smurf. Every time someone makes a cash transaction over $10,000, the government automatically flags the transfer. But by smurfing (picking a dollar amount just below the threshold, like $8,500), you can sneak below the government's radar.

So what does Meltzer think our chances are of finding bin Laden's assets? "No one hides money like Americans -- and no one finds money like Americans. They can have all the phone books they want, they're not getting away."

 Review and Interview  
FindLaw book reviewer and attorney Laura Hodes reviews Brad Meltzer's latest thriller, The Millionaires, which concerns two basically good brothers who take a single step outside the law, stealing money that is there for the taking, and then find themselves on the run. Hodes finds the novel impressive both in its suspenseful plotting and the serious issues -- about technology, privacy, and crime detection -- it raises along the way. Hodes also interviewed Meltzer about the book for this site.
Friday, Feb. 08, 2002

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