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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Russian Money Laundering

Never in a million years would I have pictured myself going from bank to bank to gather like-new, crisp dollar bills. Large piles, in large denominations, are now stacked in my purse, which weighs a ton.

Am I involved in an underworld deal? Do I have a child being held for ransom? Am I engaging in real life money laundering against my will?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I am adopting children from Russia.

Turns out that the Rooskies don’t like dirty money: no rips, no tears, no writing on it, no folding that wears away printed faces. I have examined Ben Franklin so many times that his face permeates my dreams and nightmares.

Have you ever tried to find “clean money”? No such thing. Consumers and vendors alike mark on bills, rip bills, and otherwise fold, staple, or mutilate dollar bills.

Point is, that’s illegal.

Point is, Russia will only accept untainted currency which is pretty hard, if not impossible, to accomplish. Whereas Russian rubles are often dirty, torn, and tattered, somebody over there insists on nothing but the cleanest of cash to come from us. That’s a problem.

Banks in the U.S. have very little pristine money anymore. Which leads me to conclude that any stimulus money must be old money, from increased taxes on old-money people, because new money is harder to find than Puxatawny Phil’s fat little groundhog shadow on a cloudy day. We need wads and wads of great-looking greenbacks, hundreds only, please.

So we go from branch to branch, hat in hand, old money clients asking for new money scrip. The head tellers check the vault, bringing me stacks of twenties.

“Hundreds?” I whisper through the plate glass.

They shake their heads, slowly, silently. It’s as though I am straining to see my newborn child in the hospital nursery. I peer in expectation at the window as they hold up this one, that one, none are mine.

I leave and drive to the next bank.

“How often do you get in new money?” I ask, purposely having left myself a few weeks.

The manager gives a “Who knows?” facial expression.

“Every week? Once a month?” I ask.

C’mon, they have to have some idea. Must be a state secret. They won’t part with the info at any branch.

“I can order some clean money for you,” she offers.

“That’s fine, but would you guarantee that it would actually be clean?” I shift from foot to foot, growing impatient with this royal waste of time. Do they give bank robbers dirty money? I want my money, and I want it clean.

“No, it might not all be clean,” she confirms.

“Then what, exactly, might be the reason one would order it?” I look at her. She looks at me.

“And may we help you with anything else today?” asks the customer service-challenged manager, trying to be helpful. “Do you have a mortgage?”

I recall during our first Russian adoption, I trusted Benedetto with our big wad. Wrong move. He had the stash and we were steaming for the airport.

“Let me see it,” I tell him in the car.


“The money–I never checked to see that it was clean,” I explain.

He pulls out the stacks in their bank-issued wrappers. I flip through them.

“What is this?” my jaw drops. “It’s… all… DIRTY! Look at these–these tiny stamps–and this rip!” my blood pressure is skyrocketing, zero to sixty in three seconds flat.

“Those little marks?” Benedetto scoffs. “They won’t care. Money is money. The Russians are going to turn down MONEY?”

“Stop the car.”

“What?” he blinks.

“Stop the car.”

“We’re on our way to the airport. To Russia. To get our SON,” he reminds me.

“Yes. And we need CLEAN MONEY. Stop at this bank and exchange the money.”

“This is not one of my banks,” he objects.

“You don’t need an account to exchange it. Money is money,” I intone.

Miraculously, within ten minutes, we’re back on the road. Naturally, since we fly so much, we’ve cut it close to the departure time. My heart races. I hate this mad dash.

Now, years later, I am planning ahead. I’ll search for the money, order the money, starch and iron the money. You think I’m kidding?

You’ve never stood across from the matronly Russian character in the James Bond movies, you know, the one with a jacknife in her sturdy shoe heel, who happens to be doubling as a currency exchange teller in Russia. She holds the bills up to the light, examining them, sliding a few back through the envelope-sized slot at the base of the plate glass window.


We should use the ATM in Russia, you say? Sorry, but I also have memories of my dear husband, desperate for denari, several countries away from our casa, no ATMs working, no banks answering the phone back home on le weekend, racking up roaming charges to listen to telephone menu selections nowhere near our needs.

But that’s another twisted tale for another travel day.

For now, I’m guarding my purse like you wouldn’t believe. It’s my very own Wells Fargo truck taking me straight to Mother Russia. Why the purse? To me, it appeared normal and not likely to raise any suspicions. Many were the adoptive parents investing in money belts, sock safes, and neck pouches. But the contortions necessary to remove a few coins! It made more sense to buy a walk-in, stand-up combination safe and just strap it to your back.

Funny, I grew up in one of those immigrant families telling stories of America’s streets being paved with gold. Looks like some of the gold dust is making its way to the Old Country in the form of crisp, hard cash.

With the ruble’s devaluation of 60% in the past few months, we’re doing our part to keep Russia’s ship afloat. All I need now is a liferaft to get us back to shore once we return home and start paying on the real expenses of life: doctors, dentists, clothing, new beds, bicycles, nailpolish.

If push comes to shove, and the laundered money runs low and we need to decide between a college fund for four, or a retirement fund for two, it looks like doggies Misha and Grisha will win, and finally get to retire to the Riviera. Hopefully they’ll bring us along in a style to which we are accustomed.


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