What is money laundering? Money laundering refers to financial transactions that involve money obtained through criminal activity. Usually, the purpose of a money laundering transaction is to take money earned through illegal activity and make it appear legitimate. It is called “laundering” because it is a process where someone is attempting to take “dirty” money and make it “clean.”

Money laundering occurs whenever money earned through illegal activity is deposited in a bank or other financial institution. Money laundering also occurs wherever illegally obtained money is spent in a way that helps promote or conceal the illegal activity.

Watch Page Pate explains the different types of money laundering charges in this video.

Rarely is someone charged with just a money laundering offense. We usually see money laundering charges brought in cases where someone is being accused of drug conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, racketeering (RICO), or some other financially motivated crime.

The government can also use undercover “sting” operations to investigate and prosecute money laundering offenses where the money is not actually “dirty money.” In these “sting” operations, an undercover agent can say that the money is “dirty” even if it is clearly not.

In addition to these crimes, federal law also makes it illegal to enter into an agreement to commit money laundering. Money laundering conspiracy charges are often brought against people who have only played a small role in the alleged criminal activity. In order to prove that someone is part of a money laundering conspiracy, the government must show that there was an agreement to launder money and that the person knew about the agreement and wanted to join in it. The government does not have to prove that the person actually handled the money or did anything specific to assist the money laundering offense.

Money laundering is a serious crime under federal law. A violation of 18 U.S.C. §1956 can result in a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A violation of 18 U.S.C. §1957 can result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. As with most federal financial crimes, the exact sentence will be determined primarily by the amount of money involved in the offense.

Defenses against Money Laundering Charges

In any money laundering case, other than an undercover “sting” operation, the government must prove that the money was in fact derived from a specific criminal activity under federal law. The government must also prove that the person being charged was aware that the money had been obtained from criminal activity.

While the government does not have to prove that the person was aware of the specific crime involved, the government must show that the facts and circumstances of the case would be enough to lead a reasonable person to conclude that the money included the proceeds of illegal activity. A person is not guilty of money laundering if they simply accept money without knowing that the money was obtained through criminal activity.

To convict someone of money laundering, the government must also show that there was a monetary or financial transaction involved. This generally means that the government would have to show that the person did something with the money other than put it in a safe or their closet. Depositing the money in a bank or spending the money in any way that helps promote or conceal criminal activities would normally be enough to show that a financial transaction was involved.

Of course, in any case other than an undercover “sting” operation, the government must show that the money involved in the case actually came from the commission of one of a list of specific crimes covered by federal law. If the money was not derived from one of these specific criminal activities, there can be no money laundering conviction regardless of how the person obtained the money or what the person did with it.

What usually happens in a federal criminal case? Watch Page Pate explain in this video.

Confused about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines? Watch Page Pate explain in this video.

Current trends in money laundering cases

A recent indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia targeted an international money laundering, drug trafficking and illegal wildlife trade conspiracy.

FBI and FinCEN increased focus on possible money laundering transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic due to concerns for fraud with new relief funds available and banks flagging normal financial activity as suspicious when much activity either stopped or significantly reduced.

Medical and recreational marijuana use is legal in many states but concerns from banks that they will violate federal anti-money laundering laws make banking services unavailable.  New laws introduced in the latest Coronavirus legislation will amend the SAFE Banking Act to provide legal access to financial services for marijuana related businesses.

If You Need Help, Call Us

Federal money laundering laws can be incredibly complicated and tricky. Our firm has helped clients fight money laundering charges in federal courts across the United States.

While most of our clients contact us as soon as they think they may be a target of a federal money laundering investigation, we are also frequently hired by people when they have become dissatisfied with their current lawyer because the lawyer is either not very experienced in federal money laundering cases, or the lawyer has not been giving the client the time and attention he or she deserves. When we are hired in this situation, we can either assist the client’s current lawyer or take over the case completely, depending on what is best for the particular client.

We also help people who may be experiencing the stress of a federal criminal case for the first time and would like a “second opinion” about the strength of the government’s case. We can share our expertise in federal money laundering cases with the client and the client’s current lawyer and help them make what is often a life-changing decision about accepting a proposed plea agreement or taking the case to trial.

In addition to helping our clients win favorable resolutions or “not guilty” verdicts in federal money laundering cases, we also assist clients in federal criminal appeals, sentencing hearings and grand jury investigations involving related allegations.

We have successfully represented clients in federal criminal cases across the United States. Our firm has its main office in Atlanta GA, and we frequently travel to other federal courts to represent people in serious federal criminal cases.

If you or someone you know is currently facing money laundering charges in federal court, give us a call and we will let you know if we can help

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