According to experts, around $5 trillion is money laundered around the world each year, and law enforcement authorities recover only a small fraction of that money. But, in spite of this gap – and quite possibly because of it – U.S. law enforcement authorities take an extremely hard line in pursuing the money laundering investigations that do end up on their radar, and it is often tertiary and unsuspecting individuals and entities that find themselves in the crosshairs of a money laundering investigation. While we might think of large banks and other financial institutions when we think of money laundering, it is common for business partners, service providers, art and antique dealers, auction houses, trustees, directors and board members, and all types of financial service providers to get caught up in a money laundering investigation. It is certainly frightening to get a visit, call, or other inquiry from a federal agent or agency – or even to hear rumors of those close to you being approached – but what you do next can have enormous implications for your future.
Understand That Criminal Liability Can Exist Even If You Were “Ignorant”
Again, federal law enforcement takes a very aggressive approach to policing money laundering, and they do this for a number of reasons. One is that it is often more feasible for law enforcement to collect evidence of financial crimes than the crimes that produced the money being laundered, such as international trafficking. Law enforcement can also approach those who may played a secondary and/or unwitting role in the money laundering and use methods to intimidate them and their businesses that might lead them to the persons committing the crimes from which the money profits flowed.
Unlike with many other criminal laws, prosecutors do not have to show that a person willfully (in other words, intentionally) violated federal laws on money laundering in order to secure a conviction. Using the concept of “willful blindness,” prosecutors can successfully argue that a person is guilty of money laundering when he makes efforts to conceal the profits of criminal activity even if he did not know the money was the product of illegal activity but had strong reason to suspect it was. For example, an art dealer facilitating transactions on behalf of a wealthy drug dealer to conceal profits might be charged with money laundering if it can be shown there was a reason to suspect the nature of the funds.
Furthermore, anyone who merely encourages or assists such a transaction (e.g. service providers) could potentially be liable even if he or she was not a primary party to the transaction.
Do Not Wait to Speak With a Criminal Defense Attorney
Does this mean every person connected with a transaction involving money derived from illegal activity is criminally liable? Absolutely not, but it does mean that prosecutors can find a way to pin criminal liability on persons in ways they may well not have imagined. Thus, it is a mistake to speak with law enforcement – or any other non-attorney for that matter (any conversation you have not protected by a privilege may be used against you) – without an attorney under the impression that you have nothing to worry about.
By speaking with a criminal defense attorney experienced in federal investigations at the first sign of a money laundering investigation, you can take steps to determine what your potential criminal liability might be (which may be none, but better to find that out in a confidential consultation with an attorney who represents only your interests), and work with that attorney in communicating with law enforcement to reach your best possible outcome, which can include a dropped investigation or favorable agreement.
Contact a New York Defense Attorney Today
The Henry Law Firm PLLC provides criminal defense to individuals and businesses throughout New York in all state and federal investigations and prosecutions. If you believe you may be under investigation for money laundering, do not hesitate to contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation regarding your matter.