Money laundering is a crime where you try to make it appear as if the money you received from criminal activity came from a legal or legitimate source. A federal offense, money laundering carries harsh penalties that include substantial prison sentences, hefty fines, possible restitution, and seizure of your assets.
A conviction will undoubtedly impact your life adversely, and even just being investigated or arrested for the crime can affect your reputation and future. Therefore, you need to understand how the federal government defines money laundering and how federal prosecutors can pursue charges against you.
You also need to speak with experienced federal criminal defense attorney Joseph Lento, who can advise you of your rights and options and help you devise the most effective defense strategy against the charges.
What is Federal Money Laundering?
The U.S. government defines money laundering as any of the following types of criminal activity:
- Domestic money laundering transactions
- International money laundering transactions
- Undercover “sting” money laundering transactions
Most financial transactions affect interstate or foreign commerce in some way, which places the crime of money laundering under federal jurisdiction. Prosecutors will have to show you conducted a financial transaction, which includes any of the following:
- You moved funds by wire or other means.
- You used a monetary instrument, such as hard currency.
- You transferred the title of a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, or transferred the deed or title of real property.
- You used a financial institution that is engaged in interstate or foreign commerce.
To charge and prosecute you for the crime, the government will have to show you intended to conduct an unlawful activity through the financial transaction. They must show that you knew the transaction was meant to disguise or conceal the nature, location, source, or ownership of the funds, and that you knew the transaction was intended to avoid state or federal transaction reporting requirements as defined by law. Prosecutors can also charge you if they can show you intended to conduct tax fraud.
Additionally, the government can charge you for each separate transaction you make and prosecute each crime separately. For example, you laundered $150,000 into a legitimate account from criminal activity—this is your first charge. You then withdraw $100,000 in cash from the account—this constitutes another charge. You take that money and place a down payment on a home or buy a new car—this is yet another charge.
The elements of the crime apply to any domestic or international financial transactions. The law covers all types of monetary instruments, including electronic fund transfers, bank transfers, hard currency, checks or money orders, securities and bonds, and other negotiable instruments.
Also, prosecutors do not have to show that the money or funds were directly derived from the criminal activity if they can show you laundered the money to further any specified criminal activity.
With respect to money laundering charges stemming from sting operations, the money used in the sting must come from an authorized federal officer who can investigate and prosecute money laundering violations. Prosecutors must show you intended to the source of the funds, but they do not have to prove you intended to commit tax fraud.
Federal Money Laundering Penalties
The maximum prison sentence for federal money laundering is 20 years. You may also have to pay a fine of up to $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, which includes any items you purchased with the laundered money.
Also, the federal government can pursue civil actions against you, and you may have to pay $10,000 above the value of the funds involved for each transaction.
Money Laundering Spending and Other Related Offenses
Even if you weren't involved in the actual money laundering crime, you can still face charges if you received or spent any of the money derived from the scheme and knew it came from illegal activity. You can also face charges for making any monetary transaction with the laundered funds, which include making deposits, withdrawals, or transfers of funds through financial institutions.
For transactions over $10,000, you could receive up to 10 years in prison, and you may have to pay fines up to $250,000 or twice the total value of the transactions.
Additionally, you can face charges that fall under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) or other federal statutes if you were part of an organized criminal entity, such as the Mafia or a drug cartel. The government can prosecute RICO charges separately, and you can receive additional penalties on top of those you receive from the underlying money laundering crime.
You can also receive separate charges for tax evasion and other serious tax-related crimes if prosecutors can show your intention to commit tax fraud.
Defenses for Federal Money Laundering
Because federal laws regarding money laundering are broad and complex, you need an attorney on your side with extensive knowledge of federal laws who can advise you of your options and help you develop an effective defense.
The facts and circumstances of your case are vital in preparing your defense, and prosecutors will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you intended to unlawfully conceal or disguise the source of the funds in question.
After reviewing your case, Attorney Lento may recommend any number of options that can include:
- Lack of intent - You didn't know the money came from criminal activity.
- Legitimate money – You did not derive the money from illegal means.
- Duress – Someone forced or coerced you into committing the crime.
Your attorney may also show that the evidence doesn't support you were involved in the crime at all, or that you did not use financial transactions to launder the money. You may have other options available, but you will need a careful and objective evaluation from an experienced federal defense attorney.
Get Help from an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended clients on money laundering charges in Pennsylvania Eastern and Middle District Courts. He can review your case, advise you of your options, and represent you during any investigations or interrogations. You can count on Attorney Lento and his Criminal Defense Team to fight hard for your rights and future. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.