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Offshore companies linked to homes in expensive areas

Most of the American addresses released in the Panama Papers are not lawyers' offices but personal residences, and they're almost exclusively in high-income ZIP codes.

The 11 million documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca reveal thousands of names and addresses linked to offshore companies that the rich can use to squirrel away assets abroad. Those addresses tend to be in some of the country's highest-income ZIP codes.

ZIP codes with at least one Panama Papers address have an average income of $104,000, and ZIP codes with at least 10 addresses make $111,000. That's nearly double the income of an average U.S. ZIP code at $66,000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

Using the SmartyStreets application program interface to run more than 3,000 U.S. addresses through the Postal Service database in order to validate the locations and fix ambiguous entries showed that the top 10 percent of ZIP codes held about half of all shell company addresses. Very few companies were linked to poorer ZIP codes.

Here's a breakdown of some of the areas that were most likely to show up in the database, with income levels in green and Panama Papers addresses in orange.

Miami

The analysis found more than 400 addresses in Florida ZIP codes in the Panama Papers database. Of those, most were in Miami-Dade County. About half of Florida's addresses were listed as residential by the Postal Service.

The money flowing through covert offshore companies has been a driving force in South Florida's high-end real estate market, according to a recent investigation by the Miami Herald. That includes foreign buyers who have been accused of wrongdoing in their home counties. They may be using shell companies to mask their spending, according to the Herald.

More than 50 of the addresses in Miami are on Brickell Avenue, home to both the commercial offices of the city's financial district and some of the city's most expensive condominiums. Far fewer addresses show up in the more middle- and lower-income neighborhoods in central Miami.

San Francisco and Los Angeles

The Los Angeles and San Francisco areas accounted for most of California's approximately 400 addresses in the Panama Papers database. The California ZIP code with the most addresses was 95014 — one of two codes for Cupertino, coincidentally Apple's hometown.

Cupertino was also a top location that showed up in the Offshore Leaks data, which is an earlier leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that is also available in the group's database, but was not included in this analysis.

Of course, setting up an offshore company is not illegal in itself, and such companies can be used for legitimate business purposes. The ICIJ's public database only currently lists the names of companies, intermediaries, agents and associated addresses. The original data leak also included millions of emails that could reveal more information in the future about how and why specific companies were formed.

Los Angeles shows a similar pattern to other cities — most Panama Papers addresses showed up in wealthy neighborhoods like Beverly Hills. Again, very few addresses from the city's less wealthy central neighborhoods were involved.

More than 70 percent of the verifiable addresses in California were residences rather than commercial locations. That suggests that the companies may be being used for different purposes than those in other states.

Nevada, for example, was one of the top tax havens in the Panama Papers, but had only a handful of residential addresses in the database. Delaware was also one of the top 10 states, but had very few homes on the list.

New York City

New York was the state that was fourth most likely to be included in the data, and most of the state's 300 addresses were in Manhattan. The names of a number of prominent New Yorkers have already been found in the database.

While most of the Park Avenue and Madison Avenue addresses in Midtown are commercial, nearly all of the cluster of addresses on the Upper East Side are apartments. The city generally follows the same pattern of clustering in high-income neighborhoods, but some residential addresses were also listed in Brooklyn and Queens.

Seattle

Washington State had the greatest number of addresses registered (more than 700), but many Washington residents seem to have become involved in offshore companies accidentally, according to an investigation by McClatchy.

Many of the people whose names were listed in the database told reporters they made seemingly innocent investments that somehow ended up shuttled into shares in a series of offshore entities. Elderly investors who had tried to invest in local development partnerships years ago were surprised to learn they had shares in an offshore Ugandan mining company.

Nearly 90 percent of the Washington addresses were marked as residential, and most were around Seattle. They still tended to be in higher-priced areas like Bellevue and Redmond.

As McClatchy reporters noted, the fact that some of these Washington residents are included in the database is a good reminder that it contains not only Americans who may be using offshore companies to avoid taxes or hide their identities, but also people who may be entirely innocent.