Title 18 U.S. Code § 1952 - The Travel Act
Under Title 18 U.S. Code 1952, it is a federal crime to use the United States mail, or to engage in interstate or international travel, for the purpose of furthering certain "unlawful activities."
This law is colloquially referred to as The Travel Act. A conviction of a crime under this law could result in up to five years in federal prison—and if violence is involved, the sentence could go up to 20 years or even life in prison.
The Travel Act was initially intended to give the federal government a tool to fight organized crime. For example, suppose a crime boss lived in one state but conducted illegal criminal enterprise in another. In that case, it was thought neither state would have legal jurisdiction to prosecute the case.
The Travel Act has been used in different ways, including in conjunction with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
“Interstate commerce” is the primary factor for giving the federal government its jurisdiction to prosecute alleged perpetrators.
18 U.S.C. 1952 says, “(a) Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, with intent to (1) distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity; or (2) commit any crime of violence to further any unlawful activity; or (3) otherwise promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, or carrying on of any unlawful activity….”
For purposes of the Travel Act, “unlawful activity” is any business enterprise involving gambling, liquor, narcotics or controlled substances, prostitution offenses, extortion, money laundering, bribery, or arson violating state or federal law. Let's review this federal law further below.
What is the Background of the Travel Act?
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Kennedy in 1961, the Travel Act was intended to give federal law enforcement the means to combat organized crime and racketeering activities by making it a crime to use interstate travel or other forms of interstate commerce in furtherance of such activities.
The basis behind the act was to close a possible loophole by which crime bosses could live in one state, conduct illegal business in another, and so be immune to prosecution by either state.
Since its passing, the Travel Act has been used by prosecutors to target individuals participating in all sorts of criminal activity, including bribery, fraud, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and other activities.
The law has recently returned to the spotlight as the Justice Department has used the Travel Act to prosecute specific fraudulent healthcare kickback schemes.
What Does the Law Say?
Title 18 U.S.C. 1952 makes it a crime to engage in foreign or interstate travel or to use the U.S. mail in interstate or foreign commerce for any of the following:
- To promote, manage, or facilitate the carrying on of unlawful activity;
- To distribute the proceeds of unlawful activity;
- To commit a violent crime in the furtherance of an unlawful activity;
- Travel in aid of racketeering enterprises.
As noted, under this law, "unlawful activity" refers to a wide range of criminal activities and enterprises, including, but not limited to:
- Illegal gambling;
- Drug trafficking and distribution;
- Liquor distribution (avoiding the Federal excise tax);
To convict you of this crime, federal prosecutors must establish the following facts:
- You utilized the U.S. mail in interstate/foreign commerce or traveled across state or national boundaries;
- You did so with the intent of distributing proceeds, promoting, managing, or committing violence in furtherance of an unlawful activity; and
- You either carried out the intended action or attempted to do so.
What Are Some Examples?
Example 1: Bill is part of a crime ring dealing in prostitution and sex trafficking in multiple states.
He travels to another state to collect the business's share of the money from the local pimps and return it to his home state. Bill can be charged with a federal crime under the Travel Act.
Example 2: Joe is a "muscle man" for an organized crime ring that distributes narcotics. Joe crosses state lines to threaten and intimidate witnesses due to testify against the gang in court.
In addition to other crimes, Joe can be charged with a federal offense under the Travel Act.
Example 3: Sally is part of an illegal gambling operation in two neighboring states. She collects gambling proceeds from her local operation and mails the cash to "headquarters" in the neighboring state. As a result, Sally can be charged with a federal crime under the Travel Act.
What Are the Related Statutes?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 95 Racketeering has several federal laws that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1952 interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1951 – Interference with commerce by threats or violence;
- 18 U.S.C. 1953 – Interstate transportation of wagering paraphernalia;
- 18 U.S.C. 1954 – Offer to influence employee benefit plan operations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1955 – Prohibition of illegal gambling businesses;
- 18 U.S.C. 1956 – Laundering of monetary instruments;
- 18 U.S.C. 1957 – Engaging in monetary transactions;
- 18 U.S.C. 1958 – Use of commerce facilities in murder-for-hire;
- 18 U.S.C. 1959 – Violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity;
- 18 U.S.C. 1960 – Unlicensed money-transmitting businesses.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1952?
The punishment for violating Title 18 U.S. Code 1952 depends on the specific circumstances of the crime and the severity.
The most common charges under this law are felonies, which can result in a prison sentence of up to five years.
If violence or threats of violence have been used, a conviction could result in imprisonment for 20 years. If death results from the act, the penalty can be extended to any number of years to life in prison.
In addition to jail time, a person convicted under the federal Travel Act could face hefty fines, asset forfeiture, and other penalties as specified by law.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1952?
When charged with a federal crime under the Travel Act, our federal criminal defense attorneys may have several possible strategies at your disposal, which are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. To convict someone of a crime under the Travel Act, prosecutors must be able to prove that you acted knowingly and willfully with intent to promote, manage or facilitate an unlawful activity.
If you can show that you were unaware of the criminal aspects of your activities, such as you might have been transporting money you didn't know was revenue from illegal activities, you may be able to have the charges dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that there is a lack of jurisdiction. To prosecute you for a crime under the Travel Act, prosecutors must show that the criminal activity crossed state or national boundaries.
If you can show that your activities were contained within one state, you might still be subject to prosecution under state law, but the federal charges would have to be dropped.
If you have been accused of violating The Travel Act, contact our law firm by phone or using the contact form. Perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable resolution.
We provide legal representation on federal criminal matters across the United States. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.