Money Laundering Offenses and Forfeiture
A tool being used much more frequently by prosecutors in both state and federal court is the use of money laundering offenses and forfeiture actions. The prosecutor basically charges that a person engaged in financial transactions with the purpose of hiding or concealing the source or destination of money which supposedly originated in another crime. The whole idea of "laundering" money originated in prosecutions against organized crime or large drug rings which would "wash" dirty money through "clean" businesses. The prosecutor might also include a forfeiture charge, a method by which the Government seeks to get control and ownership of some or all of the defendant's assets.
Money laundering cases have changed dramatically over the past decades. Instead of such charges being reserved solely for the "mob" or foreign drug cartels, we now see such allegations being brought against business people who are accused of fraud, or against corporations whose employees supposedly committed criminal acts.
Federal money laundering laws cover a variety of situations and are being used more frequently in cases brought against business men and women. One example is a standard health care fraud prosecution. If the Government accuses a doctor or clinic owner of improper billing practices, they will sometimes include money laundering charges. The prosecutor in this example would allege that by depositing the fraudulently obtained funds into a bank, the doctor or clinic owner was engaging in a "financial transaction" involving money that was obtained by a criminal act. Other examples involve what is called "structuring," and these cases require that the attorney become familiar with a different set of laws found in the part of the United States Code dealing with financial institutions. In a "structuring" prosecution, the Government often contends that the company engaged in a pattern of cash deposits designed to avoid the filing of certain required bank forms. Other cases involve prosecutions against businesses that accept cash from customers who might themselves be involved in criminal activity.
Not only are money laundering crimes more common, the penalties are often quite severe. It is a common tactic for a federal prosecutor to include money laundering and forfeiture allegations in an indictment. The money laundering crimes often carry harsher penalties than the underlying crime that created the money in the first place.
An increasingly common prosecutorial tactic is when prosecutors try and take away an individual's assets, as well as putting him or her in jail. Prosecutors use the far-ranging laws involving "forfeiture" when trying to do this. Forfeiture is the legal process by which the Government seeks to obtain ownership of a person's assets. The theory is that if the asset was used in a crime then it automatically becomes the Government's property at the time of the crime. More forfeiture laws let the Government try to get assets that were bought with the proceeds of a crime. Finally, there is the concept of "substitute assets." If the prosecutor cannot locate the property that was used in a crime or bought with the proceeds of a crime, they can try to seize and forfeit other assets, like a person's home or bank accounts.
Forfeiture often begins when property or assets are seized by the Government. Such seizures make it very difficult for a person to defend himself if a prosecutor convinces a judge to allow seizure of assets at the beginning of a case.
The law on seizure and forfeiture is exceedingly complex. A person facing such a situation needs to immediately get in touch with an experienced attorney who is accustomed to handling these aspects of a potential or actual criminal case.
Defending against money laundering crimes requires a sophisticated criminal defense attorney who is at the top of his or her game. The lawyers at Kish & Lietz recognize that such allegations are serious, and require a serious and aggressive defense. If you or a loved one faces such allegations, please contact an attorney who is capable of handling this kind of challenge. Feel free to call our office at (404) 588-3991, or please contact us online.