I believe that the scale of FBI corruption portrayed in Ozark (Season 4) is fantastical at best.
While the FBI, like most any government organization, is prone to varying levels of corruption I don’t believe the sheer scale of corruption portrayed in Ozark (Season 4) is realistically sustainable.
First, I am not saying the FBI is a 100% pure entity. It clearly isn’t as shown by the list of FBI controversies as documented on Wikipedia shows. Most any government bureaucracy has to deal with varying levels of corruption. And places like the FBI have internal methods of review that attempt to investigate and control such corruption.
I simply find it impossible to believe that an FBI operation as portrayed in Ozark (Season 4) — where the FBI effectively takes over the money laundering operation of a Mexican drug cartel — could simply happen for the core financial gain of the local FBI officials engaging in such behavior.
Asset forfeiture is a real issue.
Instead, I believe what the creators of Ozark are attempting to do is to dramatize the very real issue of asset forfeiture abuse that plagues many small, rural law enforcement departments. Wikipedia defines asset forfeiture as follows:
“Asset forfeiture or asset seizure is a form of confiscation of assets by the authorities. In the United States, it is a type of criminal-justice financial obligation. It typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instruments of crime. This applies, but is not limited, to terrorist activities, drug-related crimes, and other criminal and even civil offenses. Some jurisdictions specifically use the term "confiscation" instead of forfeiture. The alleged purpose of asset forfeiture is to disrupt criminal activity by confiscating assets that potentially could have been beneficial to the individual or organization.”
Note the vagueness of the last sentence “…disrupt criminal activity by confiscating assets that potentially could have been beneficial to the individual or organization.” This effectively means that if a law enforcement official connects someone to a local law being broken they can then confiscate anything and everything they want. The abuse comes from law enforcement simply stretching that definition to suit their needs.
For examples of how this happens on a disturbingly regular basis in the U.S., just look at the list of traffic stop related civil forfeiture incidents on the “civil forfeiture in the United States” page on Wikipedia. This case from May 2010 is a nice summary of how this often happens; bold emphasis is mine:
“In May 2010 a couple was driving from New York to Florida and they were stopped by police because of a cracked windshield. During questioning, the officer decided that $32,000 cash in the van was ‘probably involved in criminal or drug-related activity,’ seized it, shared it with federal authorities under equitable sharing. The victim hired a lawyer to get back the seized money who urged settling for half of the seized amount, and after the lawyer’s fees, the victim got back only $7,000.”
Basically, if law enforcement has an excuse and you cooperate with law enforcement during what seems to be a basic traffic stop, you run the risk of having law enforcement seize your property. Most often that property is money. And the main law enforcement contention is why would someone doing something legitimate be driving around with $32,000 cash?
I don’t believe the FBI taking over a money laundering operation of a drug cartel for their own financial gain is realistic.
The amount of money flowing within a money laundering operation connected to a drug cartel is massive. Could FBI agents do something as large scale as this and successfully cover it up? Maybe. But only for a relatively short amount of time for these reasons:
- At what point do people in the FBI outside of this operation take notice? And when they notice, what happens? Does the FBI investigate itself? Or do the Ozark FBI agents share the wealth with others in the FBI? At what point does that scheme become practically unviable and collapse on itself?
- At what point do others in rival drug cartels notice this and speak out about it?
- At what point do local officials unconnected to the FBI and the cartel notice this? And what would they do if they discovered this?
At the end of the day small scale corruption happens everywhere. And that is often caught and nipped in the bud. Often because sometimes small scale players decide to “go big” and then just self-sabotage their operation.
But large scale money laundering being run by the FBI for a drug cartel? That seems unrealistic.
Unless this FBI involvement is a part of a larger game or investigation where they will jump on the cartel and shut this down, this all seems like lazy, cynical and fantastical writing on the part of the Ozark show runners.