Money laundering is a serious federal crime that involves trying to make money you received from criminal activity appear as though it came from a legitimate source. Penalties upon conviction can include considerable prison time, heavy fines, and other repercussions, such as seizure or forfeiture of your assets. Therefore, you need to understand all you can about money laundering and how the federal government may prosecute you if you have been arrested or are under investigation for the crime.
You also need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the government's anti-money laundering laws to advise you of your rights and options and help you create an effective defense against the charges.
What is Federal Money Laundering?
The federal government defines three types of criminal activity that constitute money laundering. They are:
- Domestic money laundering transactions
- International money laundering transactions
- Undercover “sting” money laundering transactions
The government defines a “financial transaction” as one that affects interstate or foreign commerce and involves any of the following:
- Moving funds by wire or other means
- Using a monetary instrument
- Transferring the title of a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, or transferring the deed or title of real property
- Using a financial institution that is engaged in interstate or foreign commerce
An important note is that the government can charge and prosecute you for each separate transaction that takes place. For instance, say you launder $100,000 into a “legitimate” account. That constitutes your first charge. You then withdraw $50,000 in cash from the account. Prosecutors can charge you for that offense. If you then take the $50,000 and buy a new car, prosecutors can charge you a third time.
With respect to conducting financial transactions, prosecutors must show any of the following to prosecute:
- You intended to conduct an unlawful activity.
- You intended to conduct tax fraud.
- You knew the transaction was meant to disguise or conceal the nature, location, source, or ownership of the funds.
- You knew the transaction was intended to avoid state or federal transaction reporting requirements as defined by law.
The elements apply to any international or domestic transactions, and the law applies to any form of transporting monetary instruments, including electronic fund transfers, hard currency, checks or money orders, or securities and other negotiable instruments. However, if prosecutors can show you laundered the money to further any specified criminal activity, they do not have to show the money or funds were directly derived from the criminal activity.
Regarding charges that result from sting operations, the money used in the sting must come from an authorized federal officer who can investigate and prosecute money laundering violations. The statute does not involve the intent to commit tax fraud, but you must have conducted the transaction with the intent to conceal or disguise the source of the funds.
Penalties for Federal Money Laundering
If convicted of federal money laundering, you can receive up to 20 years in federal prison, and you may have to pay a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount of the total value of the money laundered.
You will also have to forfeit any proceeds you obtained from the crime, including any items you purchased with the money.
Additionally, the government includes civil penalties for certain charges of money laundering crimes, and you may have to pay the government up to $10,000 above the value of the funds involved in the transaction.
Money Laundering Spending and Other Related Offenses
Whether you were involved in the actual money laundering scheme, you can still face charges if you knew the money came from illegal activity and spent any of it. The government defines a “monetary transaction” as a deposit, withdrawal, transfer, or exchange of any foreign or domestic negotiable instruments through a financial institution.
If you conduct any monetary transaction greater than $10,000 with the money you obtained from illegal activity, you can face up to 10 years in prison and pay a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the value of the transaction.
Moreover, because many money laundering schemes involve organized crime, you can face additional charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) or other federal statutes. The government can prosecute additional charges separately, and the court may impose penalties on top of the ones you receive from money laundering.
Defenses for Federal Money Laundering
Federal laws against money laundering are broad and complex. Therefore, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you understand the charges and work with you to develop the best defense.
Some defense options your attorney could recommend after reviewing your case include:
- You didn't know the money came from criminal activity (lack of intent).
- The money, if fact, did not come from illegal activity, or you didn't engage in any criminal conduct.
- Someone forced you to commit a crime or participate in a money laundering scheme.
The government must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. After carefully evaluating your case, your attorney may determine there is simply not enough evidence to support the government's allegations.
Contact an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Regardless, you need to examine all of your defense options against federal money laundering charges to help safeguard your rights and future. To increase your chances of obtaining the best outcome possible, you need to consult a federal defense attorney with in-depth knowledge of federal laws and experience defending clients in federal court.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience defending clients against federal money laundering and other federal crimes in New Jersey district court, and he can review your case and advise you of your options. He can also represent you during any investigations or interrogations, and you can rely on him to fight hard for you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.