- Jim Hayward Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Federal authorities are looking for the mastermind of a $94 million South Florida internet scheme they say was used to finance the radical Muslim group Hezbollah, sources say.
Roda Taher, 38, paid "money mules" to establish shell companies with bank accounts in South Florida that were used to launder money from lottery, inheritance and other email-hacking scams, the Miami Herald reported. Millions of dollars was then transfered to companies around the world, from China to the United Arab Emirates, law enforcement sources told the Herald.
Taher is believed to be in Beirut with his wife, Haanan Jaafar, 26, who is accused of assisting in the money laundering and bank fraud scams from overseas, federal prosecutors told the Herald.
Before becoming a fugutive, Taher was convicted of setting up phony companies to deposit stolen checks at South Floridal banks. He pleaded guilty in the first bank fraud case in February 2010, when he he was also arrested on drunken driving charges in Fort Lauderdale, records show.
The latest indictments involve 15 defendants and don't mention Hezbollah, but sources told the Herald that Taher set up his network to back the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has been linked to bombings and killings of Israelis and other Western targets in the Middle East.
The U.S. attorney’s office would not comment on possible ties between Taher and Hezbollah. But an expert contacted by the Herald said it's "very plausible to see this as a larger scheme for funding Hezbollah."