How could someone launder money through construction by inflating building costs?
“Money laundering” is one of those terms used in inconsistent ways such that it is more useful to people who want to mislead than people who want to inform.I have not seen the show, but my understanding is the protagonist’s main job is to take cash generated from drug sales and get it into the financial system such that it appears to be funds from legitimate business operations upon which tax has already been paid. This is one use of the term money laundering.Inflating construction costs beyond what you actually pay leaves you with more money than you can explain legitimately so it can’t launder money in the sense above. You would have to understate building costs, say by paying some contractors off the books in cash. You could build yourself a $5 million mansion that you claim cost only $1 million to construct; thereby laundering $4 million of drug money. But unless you were very religious, why would you do this with a church?If you’re overstating the cost of construction it’s more likely being done for an opposite use of the term money laundering, to disguise the purpose to which you put legitimately acquired money.For example, suppose you want to bribe politicians. The straightforward and common way to do this would be to build or remodel a house for them, and understate the costs that you bill them. To make up the difference to the contractors, you could also hire them to build a church, and overpay them for that. So the Senator gets a $5 million mansion he pays $1 million for, and a $5 million is officially spent on building a church that actually costs only $1 million.A church is a nice choice for this because you can probably deduct the bribe from your taxes as a charitable contribution. A church that you never finish is particularly good, because you don’t even have to spend $1 million in real money, you could just pay a few people minimum wage to show up in hard hats now and again to move stuff around a little (some of your bribe money could go to local building or zoning regulators to tie up the project in endless delays, or even cheaper, pay local greens to protest the site). Then whenever you wanted to bribe someone, you would purchase services for them and tell the service provider to bill it to the church.A church is also nice because you don’t have to justify the business purpose of the expenses. If you want to give someone a piece of artwork, or a brick of gold, or a truckload of mescaline—all you have to say is that it’s for religious purposes. If you were building a Little League baseball field, it would be hard to explain those things. Moreover since people actually might want a baseball field, they might complain about the delays; many people are happy in theory that churches are built, but are in no hurry to attend one.