A woman with a Guinean diplomatic passport was arrested on charges of running an illegal money-sending business in the District that shipped at least $5 million abroad in recent years, federal agents said yesterday.
The raid on Guinex International Inc., in the 6800 block of Eastern Avenue NW, was the latest in a series of arrests nationwide of unlicensed money senders since the Patriot Act took effect in October 2001, tightening regulations on the financial industry.
"This case clearly demonstrates the threat posed by unlicensed money transmittal businesses," said Allan J. Doody, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Washington area.
"Any criminal or terrorist can come to these underground businesses and have their millions wired anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds with no questions asked."
He said, however, that Guinex appeared to have no terrorist ties.
Attorneys for the owner, Aissatou Pita Barry, said she had been trying to get a license but that authorities lost her application. "Everything has been done in good faith," said C.T. Wilson, one of her attorneys. "This is not the criminal Taliban."
Barry, a native of Guinea who lives in Silver Spring, had a diplomatic passport that authorized her to work at the Embassy of Guinea, but she did not appear to be employed there, a statement from the immigration agency said.
No one answered the phone yesterday at the embassy.
Barry's first brush with customs agents came in 1999 at Dulles International Airport, when she was found carrying $50,000 in undeclared funds, according to the immigration statement.
She incorporated Guinex in the District as a business that dealt in nondurable goods, but the company sent funds to the United Arab Emirates, India and other countries, the statement said.
Barry sought a money-transmitting license in June 2003, but her application was apparently lost, according to an affidavit from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
Barry appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington and was ordered detained on $75,000 bond. She did not enter a plea, her attorneys said. Authorities said they also seized about $100,000 from company bank accounts and $19,700 in cash and other assets.