Money laundering is the practice of hiding, disguising, or transforming the proceeds of illegal activity into seemingly legitimate assets through one or more financial transactions. This conduct is a serious crime violating both federal and Florida criminal statutes. While money laundering charges were historically brought against people engaged in organized criminal conspiracies, they are increasingly filed in cases where individuals allegedly obtained money through fraud, embezzlement, and other more common offenses.
At Tampa’s Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, every money laundering charge is handled by criminal defense attorneys who have extensive experience in federal and state courts defending a wide range of indictments dealing with financial crimes.
The central issue we confront when defending money laundering charges is the unfounded claim by prosecutors that the questioned funds are “dirty” when they are not. Contact us immediately for experienced money laundering criminal defense anywhere in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, Florida.
Federal vs. Florida Money Laundering Charges
Crimes for which a person may be indicted by either state or federal prosecutors are especially threatening. Many people are surprised to learn that either or both jurisdictions may bring these criminal allegations. Let’s look at them each separately to understand how the federal statute and penalty compares with the Florida statutory provisions.
The purpose of all anti-money laundering laws is to empower law enforcement authorities to detect, investigate, and seize any funds or property that were obtained from the commission of a crime. the federal Bank Secrecy Act requires that any financial institution report all payments, deposits, or other transactions for more than $10,000 in cash be reported to the federal government. Attempts to evade that legal obligation by intentionally conducting a series of transactions under $10,000 is also illegal; it’s called a “structured transaction” and it is viewed as an indication of money laundering.
Federal Money Laundering Act (18 U.S. Code § 1956) — Congress has enacted many laws intended to detect and seize proceeds of criminal activity. The federal anti-money laundering law can be violated in several ways:
- conducting or attempting or conspiring to conduct a financial transaction with money or property you know is the proceeds of criminal activity with:
-intent to carry on with any one of the criminal activities listed here, or
-intent to avoid or defeat taxes or provide false information to the IRS, or
-knowing the transaction is designed in any part to disguise or conceal that the proceeds of certain specific crimes were involved, or to hide their location or ownership, or
-intent to avoid the transaction reporting obligations imposed by state or federal law,
- transporting either the proceeds or the asset into which the proceeds were mixed or transferred across the territorial borders of the United States, either originating or terminating in this country, with knowledge the proceeds were partially generated by illegal activity.
Federal law also permits convictions even where a defendant’s alleged transaction involved innocent money that was represented by a law enforcement sting agent to be proceeds of criminal activity. The federal statute of limitations requires that any money laundering charge must be brought within five years of the commission of the crime.
Federal Penalties — For each money laundering count the federal penalty includes up to 20 years in federal prison and the greater of a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the amount of the transaction.
State of Florida Money Laundering Act (F.S. 891.101) — Florida has its own anti-money laundering statute that state law enforcement authorities can use to prosecute any case in which more than $300 is allegedly laundered. To convict someone under the Florida Money Laundering Act, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant engaged in some financial transaction in which the person knew or should reasonably have known the subject asset was the proceeds of illegal activity. The defendant doesn’t need to know what specific crime the money or property was involved in, only that the asset was generated by criminal conduct constituting a felony in the state of Florida.
Money laundering could be committed in an almost limitless number of ways under the Florida statute. The law describes the possible transactions as follows:
“Transaction” means a purchase, sale, loan, pledge, gift, transfer, delivery, or other disposition, and with respect to a financial institution includes a deposit, withdrawal, transfer between accounts, exchange of currency, loan, extension of credit, purchase or sale of any stock, bond, certificate of deposit, or other monetary instrument, use of a safety deposit box, or any other payment, transfer, or delivery by, through, or to a financial institution, by whatever means effected.”iii
Enacted by the state legislature in 2015, this statute borrows the language of the federal statute almost word-for-word. State laws often mimic federal statutes to avoid having the language challenged as unconstitutional in a manner the congressional statute has not already resolved.
Like the federal statute, Florida expressly criminalizes engaging in any transaction which involves money or property that “was represented” to be proceeds of criminal activity. Attempting or conspiring to do so is equally in violation of Florida law. This refers to the often-relied-upon law enforcement tactic of using undercover agents in a sting operation to present a prospective defendant with an opportunity to commit money laundering.
Florida Money Laundering Penalty
Florida law imposes severe penalties on people convicted of money laundering under the state statute. And it is worth keeping in mind that the law covers any laundering transaction involving as little as $300.01.
— If the illegal money laundering transaction involves more than $300 but less than $20,000 in any 12-month period, the offense is a third-degree felony carrying up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
— For an illegal money laundering transaction involving more than $20,000 but less than $100,000 in any 12-month period, the offense is a second-degree felony carrying up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
— For such a transaction involving over $100,000 in a 12-month period, they are guilty of a first-degree felony and face up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Seizure of Funds or Property
Florida law also permits the government to petition the court for an injunction preventing any bank, financial institution, or other party who is in possession of suspected laundered money or property from releasing the asset to the owner or named defendant without court authorization. The government need not post any bond to secure an injunction. However, the owner may not obtain release of the asset unless they post a bond equal to the value of the asset.
The owner of the asset may petition the court for permission to release funds directly for certain business liabilities, payroll, workers’ health and workers’ comp insurance, and to pay taxes and regulatory fees.
Entrapment (Was it a Setup?)
When an undercover law enforcement sting operation is used to present a person who is not already committing a crime with an opportunity to commit a money laundering crime, the defense can often claim that the case was an “illegal entrapment” because a government agent induced the defendant to commit the crime. But using entrapment as a defense is unavailable if the prosecution can produce evidence that the defendant was “predisposed” to commit the crime.
How does the government prove a predisposition to commit a crime? The law can permit a prosecutor to overcome an entrapment defense by showing that the defendant has a record of previous crimes, or even in the absence of a prior record, that the defendant eagerly agreed to participate in the crime without hesitation.
Experienced Tampa Money Laundering Defense Attorneys
A successful defense of state or federal money laundering charges requires your criminal defense lawyer to perform complex and sophisticated legal and financial analyses. Reconstructing past transactions and demonstrating the legitimacy of the alleged illegal transactions can only be accomplished by experienced, professional financial crimes defense lawyers.
Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law is one of Florida’s few firms in which all the attorneys are State Certified in the practice of criminal defense law. With years of litigation and negotiation success, Ben Stechschulte and Amy Nell will aggressively defend you from all allegations in federal or state court. Preserving our clients’ liberty and social reputation is the core mission of our legal practice.
Trust only experienced professional money laundering defense attorneys with your liberty. Contact Stechschulte Nell today. Call us at 813-280-1244.