Money laundering is generally described as financial transactions involving money that was obtained through criminal activity. In other words, a money laundering transaction is to take money earned through illegal activity and make it look legitimate.
The term “laundering” refers to a process of someone making an attempt to take dirty money and make it clean.
A common example of an 18 U.S.C. § 1956 money laundering offense includes a situation where money that was earned by illegal activity is deposited into a bank, then spent in a manner that helps conceal the illegal activity.
A money laundering offense is typically filed when a defendant has also been accused of other crimes, such as mail fraud, wire fraud, drug crimes, and racketeering (RICO). Money laundering is a financial crime that applies equally to both the:
- criminal who commits those other crimes, and
- the person who knowingly deals with and disguises their profits.
If you are facing federal money laundering charges, you should never communicate alone with federal law enforcement agents whose job it is to gather evidence against you. Anything you say will be used against you. Remember, you have a:
- Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and
- Sixth Amendment right to counsel, rights and privileges.
You should always consult with a federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as you become aware you are under investigation.
What is Money Laundering?
The U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network safeguards the money system from illicit money laundering and other financial crimes by linking law enforcement with the financial community and its government regulators.
Profit motivates criminals to commit crimes. But the profit, sometimes literal piles of cash, can alert banks, their regulators, and law enforcement to criminal activity.
Hence, the U.S. government forms and funds the federal law enforcement to detect that activity and identify and charge money laundering crimes.
Federal money laundering statutes
The general federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 1956 that defines money laundering is complex. In simple terms, money laundering is disguising financial assets for use without revealing the crimes that produced them.
When the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 was passed, it became a federal offense punishable by serious fines and a lengthy federal prison sentence. It contains two sections:
18 U.S.C. § 1956
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1956, an individual or business executive commits money laundering when they, with the intent of knowingly promoting carrying on illegal activity, avoiding paying taxes, transaction reporting requirements, or conceal the ownership, location, source of the money, commits one or more of the following acts:
- conducts, or attempts to conduct, a financial transaction with money they know was earned by illegal activity;
- transports, transfers or attempt to transmit any funds to or from a foreign country.
18 U.S.C. § 1957
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1957, an individual or business executive commits money laundering when they:
- knowingly engage, or attempts to engage, in a monetary transaction in criminally derived property that is valued at more than $10,000.
Money laundering is not a victimless crime. On the contrary, laundering fuels crime, funding terrorism, sex trafficking, robbery, violent crimes, extortion, illegal arms sales, drug trafficking, criminal fraud schemes, and many other kinds of crime.
How Can I Fight Federal Money Laundering Charges?
In order to successfully challenge a federal money laundering case, our experienced federal criminal defense lawyers will have to create reasonable doubt to the prosecutor's evidence.
Money laundering is a “specific intent” crime, which means you must have had a specific intent to commit and act for a desired result to be found guilty.
We can use a range of defense strategies to help you get the charges reduced, dismissed, or acquittal at trial. As stated, federal prosecutors must prove each element of their money laundering charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
That proof burden is the constitutional protection that you are innocent until proven guilty. The elements of a federal money laundering charge under 18 U.S.C. § 1956 are complex.
Casting reasonable doubt
We might be able to cast reasonable doubt on at least one of those elements and thus successfully defend the charge in one or more of the following ways:
- defendant did not conduct or attempt to conduct a financial transaction;
- defendant did not know that the property involved in the financial transaction represented proceeds of unlawful activity;
- the unlawful activity was not a federal crime specified in the federal money laundering statute;
- defendant did not have one of the four specific intents the federal money laundering statute requires; and
- the property was not derived from the alleged specified unlawful activity.
The four forms of specific intent, one of which the prosecution must prove to support a money laundering conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1956, include to either:
- promote the alleged specific crime,
- unlawfully evade taxes,
- complete transaction knowing its purpose was to conceal crime profits, or
- complete the transaction knowing its purpose was to avoid financial reporting requirements.
Prosecutors find this specific intent element especially hard to prove because intent testimony is peculiarly within the defendant's control.
Prosecutors, in effect, have to make the money laundering defendant out to be virtually as guilty as the criminal committing the underlying crime, when to the contrary, financial transactions in themselves are entirely innocent.
This means with an aggressive defense, a money laundering defendant could potentially have the upper hand in defending several elements, especially specific intent.
Federal Criminal Defense for Money Laundering Charges
If you are facing allegations of committing money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956, you need to retain our federal criminal lawyers who know how defend serious federal charges.
Money laundering is a subtle crime, one in which innocent persons can, to overzealous federal authorities, appear to be involved in or benefiting from the criminal enterprise and thus guilty of money laundering.
But appearances can be deceiving. Innocent persons, including family members and business associates of those engaged in crime, often do not know when they might be benefiting.
Money laundering is a charge that you can defend with the right aggressive advocacy. We have the skill and experience to handle the most serious federal criminal charges, including money laundering.
Don't get caught up in a federal money laundering case without the best legal representation. Don't foolishly disregard your constitutional and other legal rights as you have too much at stake.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm serving clients in California and throughout the United States.
Our office is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is in the San Fernando Valley area of LA County adjacent to the Van Nuys Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our firm for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570.