Money laundering is a type of white-collar crime that involves taking illegitimate funds and concealing, disguising or making them appear legitimate in order to evade detection, seizure, taxation or prosecution. In essence, “dirty” money is “cleaned” or “laundered.”
Although money laundering is a non-violent crime, it may sometimes be linked to violent organizations, such as gangs or drug cartels. However, the lack of violence hardly ever translates to lesser penalties. In some situations, defendants face up to 20 years in prison, plus up to $500,000 in fines (or twice the value of money laundered, whichever is greater).
Jacobs Keeley Trial Lawyers provide comprehensive criminal defense in Miami.
In recent years, investigation and prosecution of money laundering crimes has been on the rise, particularly within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, as both cite concerns about suspected links to terrorism. That has meant more resources funneled into those arms of government dedicated to investigating money laundering, and not just at the federal level either.
It’s worth noting too that most anti-money laundering laws generally require companies to have adequate internal systems for detecting suspicious activity and reporting it to the government. Those statutes are applicable not just to banks, but also insurance companies and brokers, casinos and marijuana dispensaries. For example, in 2013, a Las Vegas casino operator had to shell out $47.5 million to the federal government for failure to raise alarm when millions in money transfers were made by a “high roller” linked to drug trafficking.
Businesses and individuals facing money laundering allegations must recognize their freedom and livelihood is in jeopardy. Immediate consultation with legal defense counsel is strongly advised.Prosecution of Money Laundering
The Department of Justice defines money laundering as the process that grants those engaging in crimes unwarranted economic power. It’s often tied to other crimes, such as embezzlement or racketeering.
Some general examples of money laundering include:
- Concealing the source of funds invested in a business or placed in a bank account.
- Not reporting large transactions of cash.
- Failing to exercise due diligence in determining the source of large cash sums.
The FBI, which is just one agency that initiates money laundering investigations, reported 303 investigations, 37 indictments and 45 convictions for money laundering in FY 2011 (the most recent years for which statistics were available).
Large institutions and businesses (like the aforementioned casino in Las Vegas) accused of money laundering often benefit from deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements, in which they pay large fines in exchange for prosecutors agreeing to drop criminal charges. However, individuals and smaller-scale businesses generally do not have this option.
Some of the specific money laundering convictions obtained following investigation by the Internal Revenue Service include:
- A public school information technology director in Ohio was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison and ordered to repay $3.4 million in restitution after he reportedly diverted millions of dollars in taxpayer money to “shell” companies he operated for goods and services never delivered.
- A North Carolina woman was sentenced to 42 months in prison followed by three years of probation after she agreed to purchase a luxury car in her name with drug trafficking proceeds given to her by her boyfriend, who was on house arrest for drug crimes.
- A Texas man who was prosecuted in New York for depositing and transferring money generated in drug trafficking transactions into several bank accounts. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit more than $200,000 in cash and assets.
- A Missouri trucking company owner was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay $800,000 restitution for inflating the cost of goods and services on invoices, and then falsely claiming on tax returns that excess funds were generated from a catering business.
While funds generated from drug trafficking is most often the subject of money laundering investigations, other sources of illegal revenue might include prostitution, theft or kickbacks.Penalties for Money-Laundering
Penalties for money laundering in Florida can be extremely harsh, regardless of whether crimes are prosecuted at the federal or state level.
The Florida Money Laundering Act, codified in F.S. 896.101, indicates state-level penalties will be dependent on the amount of money processed.
- $301-$19,999 laundered within a one-year period = third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years prison.
- $20,000-$99,999 laundered within a one-year period = second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years prison.
- $100,000 or more laundered in a one-year period = first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years prison.
The federal government has an even broader reach with the Bank Secrecy Act, the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 and Asset Forfeiture. Under these laws, banks and other institutions must report certain currency transactions over $10,000 to the federal government. Penalties for money laundering are set at a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000, plus forfeiture of all assets used in criminal activities or funded by illegal profits.
Possible defenses against money laundering accusations include:
- Absence of intent to commit a crime. If we can show our client was unaware the money obtained was illegal, prosecutors cannot prove the necessary element of intent.
- Insufficient evidence. Conviction for money laundering requires prosecutors to prove intent to conceal money and proof the funds were derived from a specific legal activity. Absent either of these two elements, prosecutors do not have a case.
- Duress. This is when a person truly believes they will be in danger if they do not participate in a crime. Criminals often force bankers, accountants or business people to launder money by lobbying threats against them or their loved ones. This scenario would form the basis of a strong duress defense.
Contact the Miami Money Laundering Defense Lawyers at Jacobs Keeley Trial Lawyers for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights.
Call us at (305) 358-7991.