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Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture

“Follow the money” is one of the oldest strategies in a criminal case. Paul Kish is an experienced Atlanta Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer who has seen this strategy increase during the 36 years he has been defending individuals and companies against criminal investigations and prosecutions. This prosecutorial tool includes allegations of the separate crime of money laundering. Additionally, prosecutors are more and more using asset forfeiture to inflict pressure and punishment on people and companies who are suspected of and may have committed certain kinds of economic or drug crimes. Anyone facing either of these tactics must consult a highly experienced lawyer, someone such as Paul, who has handled these cases as a regular feature of his practice over the past 36 years.

In the usual money laundering case, the prosecutor claims that a person or company conducted various financial transactions in order to hide or conceal the source or destination of money, and this money was first obtained in another crime. When this concept was first created, it was designed to go after large criminal organizations and drug rings. These groups would try to “wash” dirty money by funneling the cash through “clean” businesses. However, these laws are now used in situations far removed from organized crime and are found in garden-variety economic criminal cases.

The main federal criminal money laundering law is 18 U.S.C. §1956. This statute makes it a crime if anyone is involved in a financial transaction with money derived from some form of “specified unlawful activity”, and the transaction was done with the intent to try and promote the criminal activity or conceal it. Another law, 18 U.S.C. §1957 makes a criminal out of any person who engages in a monetary transaction in an amount greater than $10,000, if the person knew that the money was obtained through criminal activity.

Money laundering offenses are almost always tied to other crimes in an indictment. As noted before, the money laundering laws were originally designed to go after organized crime or large drug rings, but increasingly these laws are found in just about every indictment alleging an economic crime. The basic theory in these economic criminal matters is that the Defendant supposedly committed the separate crime of money laundering when he or she took the “proceeds” of his or her fraud and put the money into a bank or purchased something.

These cases come up in both domestic and international financial transactions. One unique feature of international money laundering cases is that these matters almost always focus on the reason for the particular financial transaction. It can be an international money laundering crime if the “clean” money is merely being used to promote a particular crime.

Paul has often seen cases in which prosecutors allege a money laundering conspiracy. In these cases, even a person with a very small role in the overall operation can be lashed together with bigger players in the organization. If the prosecutor is able to prove an overall agreement to launder some money, even the small players can be held accountable if they were aware of the agreement, even if the person never handled any money or engaged in transactions.

Another type of money laundering is “structuring”. In certain businesses, anyone who receives more than $10,000 in currency for an individual transaction is obligated to file a “Currency Transaction Form” or “CTR.” Banks also have to file such forms. In a structuring case, the Government claims that the someone or some entity engaged in a pattern of cash deposits designed to avoid the filing of a CTR. For example, some cases involve allegations of this crime when a person or business makes individual cash deposits less than $10,000, but there are multiple deposits over the course of several days.

The use of money laundering crimes is becoming much more common. Even more troubling, the penalties for these crimes are steep. Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, money laundering crimes often have longer sentences than the underlying crime that generated any money.

Another form of economic pressure is when the government goes after an individual’s assets, as well as trying to put him or her in jail. This effort involves a concept called “forfeiture”. Under this concept, which is now found in a series of laws, the government claims the right to take ownership of a Defendant’s assets. If the asset was used in a crime, then under the forfeiture laws that asset automatically becomes the government’s property as of the time of the crime was committed. Other forfeiture laws let prosecutors go after assets that were purchased with the proceeds of a crime. Finally, there are the really troubling laws involving “substitute assets.” Even when the government is unable to locate the assets used in a crime or purchased with the money from a crime, they can still try to seize and forfeit other assets, like a person’s home or bank accounts.

There are defenses against money laundering and forfeiture allegations. For one thing, not all “transactions” are the type that fall within these laws. Furthermore, even if the transaction is covered by the laws, it is a defense if the particular money in a transaction cannot be linked to an underlying crime. Finally, even if the transaction is the sort covered by these laws and involves “dirty” money, each of these laws requires proof that the charged person knew about some illegal conduct.

Money laundering and asset forfeiture are exceedingly complex areas of the law. Paul Kish is an Atlanta Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer who has worked on hundreds of cases where these laws were involved. Contact him to discuss your particular situation.

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