As far as I understand the concept of laundering money, it's all about booking more revenues than made in reality. So when one wants to lauder 100k dollars, they sell 100k cans of coke for 1 dollar and put 100k sales of cokes for two dollars each in the books. The illegal part of revenue (100k dollars) comes not from customers, but from their dirty money, and now it's cleaned.

Now, in Ozark, Marty is caught putting much more cost in the books than defrayed in reality - Rachel, the Blue Cat Lodge owner, finds 25 air-conditioners booked instead of 4 for example, so Marty increased COSTS, not REVENUES.

How is it cleaning of any money? Am I missing something?

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    Exactly what I was thinking, when he bought the overpriced carpetting. Sounds like the wrong way around to me too.
    – EluciusFTW
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 13:25
  • @EluciusFTW, not if the carpeting owner is Del. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 7:55
  • Yep, same question regarding the church construction costs.
    – tbkn23
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 22:16

3 Answers 3


Note that Marty's laundry problem is different from the common laundry problem. What I call "common laundry problem" (the one you seem to refer to) is when you have a big amount of dirty cash and you want it to make it clean in your own bank account.

Now here, Marty's problem is different. He has clean cash of his own, and his mission, to prove his proficiency to Del, is to legally transfer the 8 million to Del's accounts.

I believe the Cartel has various legitimate business activities that include construction materials (we learn later that they do tiles) and play the role of a buffer to launder money. So they need to buy stuff to these companies to clean the money.

WENDY: I've been trying to tell you since yesterday about that half-built house on Sunrise Beach.
MARTY: What about it?
WENDY: Well, I used the money from the Chicago house and I bought it. Now, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure you can inflate construction costs and launder money through it. And quite frankly, I don't give a shit if you like it or not. 'Cause I feel pretty good about it. It's a good idea, and I did it for our family.
Tonight we improvise (S01E04)

That's the point of the church construction idea.

WENDY: So what exactly is their [Snell's] turf?
MARTY: Well, fucking everything, right? Probably why every single business rejected me the second we got in here. Now I got that dead body. No one's gonna wanna work with me. We're screwed. We got $4 million left to launder. How are we gonna find enough businesses to clean that much without getting into a war with these people?
WENDY: We have to build something of our own.
MARTY: Flipping houses isn't gonna do it, Wendy. Could flip 50 houses, it's not gonna make a dent.
WENDY: Then it has to be bigger.
MARTY: Like what?
WENDY: I don't know. But you can move money through construction costs.
MARTY: Yeah. It'd have to be massive.
WENDY: Yeah! Well, obviously. Lots of people, lots of cash.
MARTY: And no IRS.
WENDY: So what is that?
MARTY: You tell me. WENDY: There's gotta be some business the IRS is afraid to touch.
Ruling Days (S01E05)

The church builders will buy the needed materials to this buffer company, but the buffer company will write way more materials that were actually bought. For example, if the church builders bought $10000 of materials, the buffer company will write 100000$, and Marty will add $90000 dirty money so thats $90000 cleaned in the process.

He used the same trick to renovate the Blue Cat, when Rachel noticed that they wrote way more materials that actually delivered.

Spoiler if you didn't see S01E09:

When the church was burned down and he wrongly blamed Snell, he said to him that instead of burning, he could have contracted a destruction company (his buffer company) that would have overcharged the destruction and they missed an opportunity to clean more money.

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    This isn't a satisfactory answer. For one, Marty's laundering problem is the common one. It's irrelevant that the money was already clean. Del tells him to clean it again as a test. It also doesn't explain how his wife can buy into a funeral parlor on a whim to help out the laundry problem. Does the cartel have its fingers in formaldehyde too? Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 1:09
  • Hi @WakeDemons3. Thanks for your feedback. To me it's really easier to launder clean money than dirty money. With clean money, they invest in companies and make them more profitable (legally and artificially) so they can renovate them (Blue Cat, titty bar, funeral parlour, flipping houses...). They are also naturally good in management and instantly see the flaws in these businesses so they buy them to fix the flaws and make more profit. They couldn't buy all these companies with dirty money. Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 8:43
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    There's still no answer given for how Marty turns inflated expenses into clean money. Normal money laundering turns revenues into clean money. Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 18:22
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    @WakeDemons3 the fact that the initial 8M is clean and his, makes it easier for him to buy and invest businesses. This businesses main income is cash (e.g. from the titty bar, and the blue cat) so he'll inflate incomes with dirty cash. Then he buys construction material stuff to Del's companies to renovate the businesses, flip houses, build a church... Del's companies overchage and deliver less material that what is charged. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 8:05
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    What is an expense for Marty is a revenue for Del since Marty's expenses are mostly on Del's stuff. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 8:19
  1. I just earned $100,000 selling drugs.
  2. I "buy" 25 air-conditioners for $100,000 from Company A. The thing is, Company A is just a shell company I own.
  3. Company A now has $100,000 in clean and legitimately earned money. (And I can now use this money.)

(The above illustrates the broad idea. There will of course be many other steps that one may take to reduce the probability of audits/detection.)

  • This doesn't work because your books would need to show an income of $100,000 which you used to buy the A/C units. Using dirty money to buy A/C units is equivalent to using dirty money to buy a yacht, which you can't - since it's dirty.
    – tbkn23
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 22:15
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    @tbkn23: I'm not sure what you mean. Company A's books will show that Company A received \$100,000 in cash for a purchase of 25 air-conditioners.
    – user9668
    Commented Jan 2, 2021 at 0:46
  • The launderer's business needs to show an income of 100K in order to balance the expense of 100K paid to company A. Where did that income come from? The buying of air conditioners does not launder the money. What does launder the money is the business (the one that bought the AC) - declaring they got 100K cash from customers instead of 10K they actually got (the other 90K coming from the drugs). The buying of the AC is merely meant to transfer money from one hand to another. At least that's how I understand it.
    – tbkn23
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 23:00

The Coca-cola example does not work with large amounts of money. You can only then launder up to a 1:1 ratio of illegal client money for your legitimate customer money. That would require a lot of legitimate customers. Larger amounts of money require receipts, taxiing, and cost justification. Why would a legitimate customer pay twice the going rate for a product?

If you were all three parties (buyer, seller, and wholesale supplier), you could make it work. It would be very risky. The chances of looking suspicious and getting caught would go up exponentially to the amount of cash being transacted.

Another way would be to sell the item twice as a sort of straw purchase. If the seller and wholesaler are the same party, the seller could buy the product from the wholesaler at an inflated price. The buyer would then buy the item for a reasonable price. The seller would then be losing money. But, who cares. The only way to cover the difference in price would be to inject the illegal money of the client into the cash flow of the seller, mixing it with the legal money of the buyer. The money coming to the wholesaler would be clean although tainted. At least, it would be receiptable. Only the seller part of the operation would be at risk. Only if they hide the loss by receipting the buyer at a higher price.

Another take on the above scenario would be for the seller and the buyer to be the same party. Again, the product would be overpriced. But, the product would have to be something that could be very price flexible. Or, something that would require a contracted price due to uniqueness or difficulty in obtaining. This could be anything from art to industrial equipment. Just as long as there is clean cash from somewhere to mix with the dirty cash.

The least risky scenario would be to engage in a cash business with few to no receipts and no hard assets being transacted. Vice businesses like strip clubs and casinos are perfect for this. Dirty cash from the client can be injected into the business labeled as clean cash from the customers. If it is a business that typically sees a lot of large legitimate cash transactions. It would be harder to detect and track the mixing of clean and dirty money. This especially works when paying out more to the customers (in this case, gambling winners) more than you are taking in revenue from their business.

During the run of the show, Marty and family engage in a little of each of these schemes. An example of this is Marty buying all of the struggling businesses with cartel money. Then, all of the revenue from the businesses were transferred to the cartel at a loss. The loss was the cost of doing business to convert the illegal money into seemingly legitimate money.

Another way of doing this is to use a legitimized business like a bank to give the tainted money the air of legitimacy. For example, if Marty were to get a bank loan for a business, he could then pay back the mortgage or business loan with cartel money. It would not matter if the business made a profit or not.

Typically, the US government puts the onus on the seller and/or the lender to know and vet their clients/buyers. You are supposed to vet any cash or cash equivalent coming into or being put into circulation through a financial institution licensed by the federal government. Since vetting every small transaction would be too tedious, time consuming, and cost prohibitive, the federal government puts a cap of $10,000 on transactions needing scrutiny. The federal government also stipulates that transactions, spread out over time that have the appearance of trying to circumvent the cap, are also to be scrutinized.

Illegal operations buy property and businesses using cash and loans. They get either unscrupulous middlemen or lenders who themselves have clean reputations to handle the transactions. These “straw purchases” are still illegal. But, now the cash has the air of legitimacy.

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