When someone obtains money through illegal methods, especially in large amounts, they must solve a big problem; where can they put the money?
Neighbors, friends, and law enforcement agencies become suspicious when someone is observed living a much more luxurious lifestyle than their circumstances suggest they can afford. For example, a truck driver who lives in a waterfront mansion, or a convenience store clerk who drives a $90,000 Mercedes would cause others to question where they got their money.
Since law enforcement and government agencies often “follow the money” to discover criminal activity, it’s a priority for people who profit from crimes to make the “dirty” money look clean by “laundering” it.
As experienced federal and state money laundering defense lawyers in Tampa, Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law want everyone to understand the law and how it applies to different situations. If you need to speak with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense lawyer about money laundering or any other state or federal criminal charge, call Stechschulte Nell for all the answers you need.
What Is Money Laundering?
Money laundering is concealing the origin of money obtained from illegal activity by converting it to appear to be from a legitimate source. Some money is laundered to conceal it from taxing authorities, while other money may be laundered because it was generated by drug dealing, illegal gun sales, or illicit conduct.
Under both federal and Florida law, the crime of money laundering can be committed by engaging in a financial transaction involving money or property known to form illegal activity, either with the intent to promote that illegal activity, or the intent to conceal the illegal source of the funds, or intent to avoid reporting requirements.
A person can be guilty of criminal money laundering even if they are unaware of the specific crime from which the money was obtained. As an example, suppose a person is aware that their spouse’s only source of income is criminal activity, but they permit their spouse to deposit substantial amounts of cash into the person’s bank account. Despite the person’s innocence of the underlying crimes, they can be prosecuted for money laundering or conspiracy to launder money.
Federal Money Laundering Charges v. Florida State Money Laundering Charges
The federal law against money laundering and Florida’s anti-money-laundering statutes are very similar except for the penalties imposed and the fact that the jurisdiction of the United States government to prosecute crime extends throughout the U.S. and can include actors in foreign countries who violate U.S. law. Florida, of course, can only enforce state law within its borders.
Both federal and Florida anti-money-laundering charges prohibit the following:
- participating in any financial transaction involving money or property
- (also including transporting, transferring, or transmitting the funds or property)
- that you know to be or has been represented to be proceeds from criminal activity
- with intent to
- promote the carrying on of criminal activity, or
- engage in tax evasion or filing a false tax return, or
- in whole or in part disguise, the location, nature, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds, or
- avoid reporting the transaction as required under the law
Federal law also prohibits any financial institution or agent or employee of the institution from facilitating any of the activities described above. Even banks and other corporations can be prosecuted if they cooperate with others who use the bank’s facilities or operations for prohibited purposes.
Money Laundering Penalties
Each separate money laundering offense carries severe penalties in both federal and state court. But most money laundering prosecutions are accompanied by criminal charges relating to the underlying crime as well. Laundering money from drug dealing will be an additional count along with the drug dealing counts. So too with bank fraud, wire fraud, extortion, human trafficking, etc.
Federal law includes criminal money laundering penalties including up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the amount of money laundered.
Florida law’s maximum penalties can range from 5 years to 30 years in prison depending on the amount of money involved and the time frame in which the crimes were committed.
Learn More > Money Laundering Charges and Penalties
Specifying Which Crimes Generate the Illegal Proceeds
The federal anti-money-laundering statute (18 U.S.C. §1956) refers to proceeds from “specified crimes” which are listed in § 18 USC § 1956(c)(7). Florida’s statute (F.S. § 896.101) also refers to another section of the law (F.S. §895.02) listing all the state crimes that might have generated the illegal proceeds covered by the law. Under both federal and state law, a prosecutor must prove which crime the illegal proceeds were generated from.
How Does Someone Commit Money Laundering?
Money laundering charges can be based on any of the following actions performed by someone who knows the money or property in the transaction is proceeds of criminal activity:
- depositing the money in a bank
- purchasing anything that promotes the commission of the crime (a car, a boat, a plane, luggage to carry the money, equipment, or supplies used to commit a crime, etc.)
- changing the money by purchasing other assets jewelry, art, real estate, etc.
- converting the cash into traveler’s checks, money orders, stock shares, or other financial instruments,
- transferring money between bank accounts,
- converting assets purchased with criminal proceeds back into cash
- investing proceeds into a legitimate business
- transferring or transmitting the money to someone else or receiving the transfer or transmission
Another form of money laundering is referred to as “structuring” transactions. The law requires any person, trade, or business, including banks and other financial institutions, to report every transaction to the government in which someone uses $10,000 or more in cash. People who obtain large amounts of cash from criminal activity do not want to be reported to the government.
To avoid detection, a person may break up a large transaction into several smaller transactions involving smaller amounts of cash. For example, instead of making a single $10,000 deposit or payment, they may break up the transaction into three parts over time: two transactions for $2,500 and one for $5,000. Engaging in this structuring of a transaction in parts to avoid government reporting requirements is also considered money laundering.
Defenses to Federal Money Laundering and Florida Money Laundering Charges
An experienced money laundering defense lawyer knows how to contest the prosecution’s evidence and challenge the government’s theory of the defendant’s guilt. Each case is different, but money laundering charges can be won by defense strategies including these:
- The money was not the proceeds of crime — there was no crime
- The money was not derived from the crime specified
- The defendant had no specific knowledge the origin of the funds or property was illegal
- The defendant did not intend to promote crime, conceal the origin or nature of the funds, or avoid legal reporting requirements
- The funds or property were not concealed
Money Laundering Defense