The president of the American Bankers Association said yesterday that the violations of currency reporting regulations at the Bank of Boston are bound to trigger investigations of other banks to check compliance with rules designed to prevent organized crime from laundering cash through the nation's banking system.
James G. Cairns said that undoubtedly some other banks will be found to have violated the rules, but that he is confident the vast majority comply with the regulations. Banks are required to report to the Internal Revenue Service whenever a customer deposits or withdraws $10,000 or more in cash.
Cairns told a news conference that an ABA staff lawyer contacted Treasury Department officials about 10 days ago to determine what banks should do if they discover they have not properly filed cash reports, but said the Treasury official never broached the idea of amnesty for those institutions. Cairns said the ABA lawyer's call was sparked by inquiries from a handful of banks, but said he did not know how many banks had called the trade association for advice.
Cairns, who is president of the Peoples National Bank of Washington in Seattle, also predicted that the number of bank failures would continue to rise this year, primarily because the growing plight of farmers is weakening farm banks.
Last year, 79 banks failed in the United States, the largest number since the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was founded in 1933. Cairns said the number banks on the FDIC's problem list is expected to rise to 1,100 from the current level of about 900. Problem banks are institutions that either are on the verge of failure or have such serious problems that failure is probable unless major changes are undertaken quickly.
Cairns predicted that 10 percent of the nation's farmers probably will go out of business eventually and another 15 percent are so deeply in debt that their future is in jeopardy.
Most the questions Cairns fielded concerned IRS cash-reporting regulations. He said large cash transactions occur relatively infrequently and as a result some tellers may be unaware of the rules -- even though most teller training programs cover the need to report all cash transactions of $10,000 or more. In addition to the Bank of Boston -- which failed to report about $1.2 billion in currency shipments to and from several Swiss banks as well as more than $2 million in cash transactions at one of its branches -- two other Boston banks have reported they failed to report some large cash transactions.
Cairns said, however, that banks across the country have filed thousands of required forms and there are questions as to how effective the reports have been as a law enforcement tool. Cairns suggested bankers and Treasury officials should see if there is a better way to utilize the forms as a way to fight money laundering.