Atlanta Money Laundering Lawyer

Money laundering is a serious offense that carries heavy penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and large fines. If you are being investigated for or are facing charges of money laundering, having the assistance and support of experienced defense counsel early in the process is critical. We have decades of experience successfully representing individuals and entities that are being investigated or prosecuted for serious federal crimes, including money laundering. And we take pride in our work ethic and our commitment to representing individuals the way that we would want to be represented. If you would like to discuss a matter with skilled federal criminal defense attorneys, please contact us at (404) 658-9070.

What is Money Laundering?

In simple terms, money laundering is the process of making funds obtained from criminal activity look as though they came from a legitimate source.

Because money laundering involves concealing the proceeds of other criminal activity, money laundering is rarely charged alone and usually accompanies other serious criminal charges. For this reason, money laundering cases are often very complex. However, because the process of money laundering generally involves multiple and layered financial transactions, it can be difficult to detect and even more difficult to prove.

The Federal Money Laundering Statutes – Elements and Burdens of Proof

Money laundering is prosecuted under two statutes: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957. Section 1956 criminalizes four kinds of money laundering—promotional, concealment, structuring, and tax evasion laundering of the proceeds generated by certain predicate offenses, referred to as “specified unlawful activities.” Section 1957 prohibits depositing or spending more than $10,000 of the proceeds from a predicate offense.

The specified unlawful activities to which the money laundering statutes apply include those identified in 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7) and those incorporated by reference from the federal racketeering statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1). In total, there are over 200 federal crimes constituting predicate offenses that can serve as the basis of a money laundering charge.

To obtain a conviction for money laundering under section 1956, the government must prove that the charged individual either conducted, or attempted to conduct, a financial transaction involving the proceeds of predicate offenses. The government must also prove that the individual had the requisite state of mind at the time he engaged, or attempted to engage, in the transaction. Under the money laundering statute, this means that the individual must have acted with (1) with the intent to promote further predicate offenses; (2) with the intent to evade taxation; (3) knowing that the purpose of the transaction is to conceal laundering of the proceeds; or (4) knowing the transaction is designed to avoid anti-laundering reporting requirements.

In cases where a defendant is charged with federal money laundering based on concealment of the proceeds of illegal activity, the government does not have to prove that the defendant knew the particulars of the underlying offense. Instead, the government need only show that the defendant knew the funds were the proceeds of some kind of illegal activity and knew the transaction was for the purpose of concealing or disguising the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the illegally obtained proceeds.

Although section 1956 does not criminalize the mere spending or depositing of ill-gotten gains absent some element of promotion, concealment, reporting avoidance, or evasion, section 1957 prohibits the spending or depositing of criminal proceeds when the transaction involves $10,000 or more.

To prove a violation of section 1957, the government must show that the individual charged (1) knowingly engaged, or attempted to engage, in a monetary transaction (2) involving illegally-obtained funds in excess of $10,000, (3) with knowledge that the funds were derived from criminal activity. A “monetary transaction” under § 1957 is any deposit, withdrawal, or transfer of funds involving a financial institution. A “financial institution,” in turn, broadly includes not only banks and credit unions, but also SEC-registered brokers and dealers; investment bankers and investment companies; issuers, redeemers, or cashiers of travelers’ checks, checks, or money orders; dealers in precious metals, stones, or jewels; pawnbrokers; loan or finance companies; travel agencies; car dealerships and other businesses that sell vehicles, including airplanes and boats; persons involved in real estate closings and settlements; the United States Postal Service; and casinos. 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(6); 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a)(2).

Money Laundering Schemes

Money laundering schemes can take many forms, and range from straightforward to very complex. Money laundering typically involves three phases: placement, layering, and integration.

  • Placement is the first phase of money laundering and involves depositing illegally obtained funds into the conventional financial system so they can be used for legal purposes. This is often accomplished through a series of regular small transactions, for example, small cash deposits into bank accounts or credit cards (sometimes called “smurfing”).
  • Layering is the second phase of money laundering and involves separating the illegal proceeds from their source through complex levels of financial transactions designed to disguise the audit trail. Layering often includes the use of multiple banks and bank accounts, including off-shore accounts, and financial instruments. Although layering methods vary from scheme to scheme, the purpose of layering in any money laundering scheme is to blend the illicit proceeds with legitimate funds so that it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two. And, the more the money moves, the harder it becomes to trace to its illegal source.
  • Integration is the last phase of money laundering and refers to the reintroduction of laundered funds into the conventional financial system, making them available for use. Integrated funds are often used to purchase luxury assets, real estate, long-term investments, and new businesses.
Money Laundering and Other Federal Financial Crimes

Although money laundering is most commonly thought of in the context of drug trafficking, it is more and more frequently used in the prosecution of a broad range of federal economic and white collar crimes, including bribery, healthcare fraud, mortgage fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud.

For example, because receipt of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care program and conspiracy to commit health care fraud are specified unlawful activities, federal prosecutors will often charge money laundering when they believe funds obtained from healthcare fraud schemes such as false claims and kickbacks have been concealed or used to purchase assets. We have seen several health care fraud and kickback cases in which prosecutors have charged money laundering or conspiracy to commit money laundering where the defendants who received the illegal kickbacks formed companies in the names of others in order to conceal the kickbacks, or where the defendants used the illegal kickbacks to purchase expensive vehicles, jewelry, luxury clothing, and exclusive real estate.

It is also common for prosecutors to charge money laundering in mail or wire fraud cases since violations of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes also constitute “specified unlawful activity” that may form the basis of a money laundering charge. A conviction for money laundering may result in a much lengthier sentence than a conviction based upon mail or wire fraud alone.

Money Laundering Penalties

Penalties for money laundering are severe. Section 1956 carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500,000 for each transaction charged. Section 1957 carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of the greater of $250,000 ($500,000 for an organization) or twice the amount involved in the transaction. Section 1957 violations also carry a civil penalty of up to the greater of $10,000 or the value of the property involved in the offense. 

It is also important to remember that because money laundering is typically charged with the underlying offense (e.g., fraud), the money laundering penalties will be in addition to and on top of any penalties associated with the underlying offense. 

Defenses to Money Laundering

Often one of the best defenses to money laundering involves showing that the person accused lacked the requisite intent to disguise or conceal the source of the funds. People who handle large amounts of money (lawyers, accountants, bankers, and the like) often become implicated in money laundering schemes without even knowing it. We have been able to show in these cases that our clients were unaware that the money was illegally obtained, thus negating the necessary intent. Duress is also sometimes a defense to money laundering charges if the person who conceals the funds only does so under threat of harm. Of course, experienced defense counsel may also be able to show that the government’s evidence is insufficient to establish the elements of federal money laundering 

I am Being Investigated for Money Laundering. Do I Need an Attorney?

Money laundering is a serious and complex offense. Defending against federal money laundering charges requires the skill and expertise of defense counsel with experience handling federal criminal cases. With a proven track record of success defending individual clients charged with white-collar crimes, including money laundering, we can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your federal money laundering case. If you or a loved one is under investigation for or is facing charges of federal money laundering, it is imperative that you contact qualified criminal defense counsel. We have represented many clients facing money laundering charges, and we are ready to assist you with your case.

If I did not Commit the Underlying Offense, can I Still be Charged with Money Laundering if I Helped Move the Proceeds Through the Financial System?

You do not have to have committed the underlying offense to have committed money laundering. If you conceal or attempt to conceal money that was obtained illegally by someone else, and you know that the money was ill-gotten and that the transaction you are engaging in is for the purpose of concealing the source of the money, then you could be charged with money laundering. However, you may have a duress defense if you conducted the transaction under threat of harm.

Can I be Charged with the Underlying Offense if I Only Participated in the Laundering of the Proceeds?

You can be charged as a co-conspirator to the underlying offense even if you were only involved in money laundering. This is because, as the launderer of the illegally obtained proceeds, you may have been an integral part of and furthered the underlying criminal activity. You can thus be charged with conspiracy to commit the underlying offense, which generally carries the same penalties as the substantive offense. For example, under 18 U.S.C. § 1349, “[a]ny person who ... conspires to commit any offense under this chapter [relating to mail fraud, wire fraud, healthcare fraud, securities fraud, and bank fraud] shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of ... the conspiracy.”

If you have a matter that you would like to discuss with skilled federal criminal defense counsel, please contact us at (404) 658-9070.

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