PHOENIX — The bleeding body of Mexican immigrant Javier Resendiz Martinez was the first thing police noticed when they raided the bungalow on North 63rd Avenue here four years ago after reports of gunshots.
Soon afterward, however, they found payment logs of more than 100 wire transfers to Western Unions in the border town of Caborca, Mexico -- which state and federal officials cite as evidence that the financial services company and other money transmitters are used by Mexican crime syndicates to help facilitate the smuggling of people into the United States.
Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said human smuggling has become a $2-billion-a-year business in his state alone, thanks in large part to what he calls "blood wires," the payments from family members, friends and employers to smugglers via Western Union and other companies.
Goddard and other Arizona officials have not accused Western Union of a crime. But in interviews and court documents they say the company consistently has rejected requests for cooperation, undermining efforts in Arizona to go after the crime cartels that control much of the increasingly violent trade in humans, drugs, weapons and laundered cash from their havens in Mexico.
Western Union spokesman Daniel Diaz called Goddard's accusations "erroneous and inflammatory."
The Colorado-based company works cooperatively with law enforcement agencies around the world to identify and prosecute illegal activity, said Peter Ziverts, its vice president for anti-money laundering. He said Western Union had instituted numerous reforms to detect illegal wire transfers, including far more aggressive oversight of its thousands of independent money-store operators.
Near the U.S. border, he said, the company caps the total amount that someone can transfer, but keeps the cap and the time frame secret to avoid tipping off smugglers. The company has filed more than 30,000 suspicious activity reports from Arizona, Texas and Mexico in the last year, he said.
"We cooperate . . . and we go over and above what we're required to do," Ziverts said.
Marcy M. Forman, who heads the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, said Western Union had cooperated on specific criminal investigations. "When we need information, we generally don't have a problem getting it," Forman said. "But ours is case specific. So that may be the difference."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, until recently Arizona's governor and its attorney general before Goddard, had no comment on Goddard's ongoing battles with Western Union.
"The general strategy of targeting drug cartels and [drug and human] smugglers by breaking their financial backbone was an approach Napolitano originated as state [attorney general] and has proved immensely successful at the state level," said a senior Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing department thinking.
Goddard said that since he took office in 2003, Western Union had denied many of his formal demands for information on money transfers and refused to comply with warrants ordering the seizure of large volumes of suspicious payments -- especially those to Caborca and other smuggler strongholds in Mexico's Sonora state, just south of Arizona.
Western Union has argued in court that many of Goddard's demands are unconstitutionally broad and violate the privacy of its customers, many of whom are immigrants sending money home to Mexico. Some customers won't want to use Western Union if their money could be seized, it says, although it acknowledges that no transfers have been seized in Arizona in several years. The company also opposes the state's efforts to get access to the wire transfer data, calling that unconstitutional.
Some judges have agreed.
Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Goddard had overstepped his authority in trying to seize records of wire transfers exceeding $500 from 29 other U.S. states to Sonora.
Western Union hailed the ruling. But Goddard, a likely candidate for governor, said the decision was narrowly focused and still would allow him to seize some of the payments if they were linked to human smuggling into those other states via Arizona.
He likens his request for the data to getting approval for a wiretap: The information helps authorities find suspicious patterns of activity, which they can use for further investigation and possible prosecution.
Goddard said that he was focusing on money transfers because, without them, the human smugglers would be out of business.
According to law enforcement officials, Mexican smugglers almost always do business in cash. But migrants pay most of the $2,000 or so fee when the trip is completed.