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What does it really mean to be accused of money laundering?

There are certain criminal offenses that undoubtedly seem mystifying to the average person despite their prevalence in television, film and literature. Indeed, when critically acclaimed crime dramas use terms like RICO, embezzlement or money laundering, the typical viewer has, at best, only a general idea of what these criminal charges are actually referencing.

In recognition of this, today's post, the first in a series, will take a closer look at money laundering, a complex criminal offense that can bring serious penalties in the event of a conviction.

At its core, money laundering is a process in which an individual seeks to conceal the source, identity and ultimate destination of funds procured through criminal activity.

This notion of concealing ill-gotten gains is perhaps more complex than it might seem on the surface. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that concealment for the purposes of money laundering doesn't include either spending or hiding money gained through criminal activity.

To illustrate, making $500 by selling illegal narcotics only to turn around and spend it on new clothes or a television isn't considered money laundering. Similarly, putting the $500 in a hidden safe isn't money laundering either.

In general, federal law dictates that what's needed to demonstrate money laundering is that a defendant:   

  • Conducted or attempted to conduct a financial transaction knowing that the proceeds involved were derived from some manner of unlawful activity
  • Knew that the purpose of the aforementioned financial transaction was to conceal the ownership, location, source, control or nature of the unlawful activity
  • The proceeds involved were in fact involved in specified unlawful activity

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, providing further background information on money laundering and a hypothetical example of what a money-laundering operation might look like.

If you are under investigation by state or federal officials for money laundering or any other white collar crime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can start protecting your rights, your reputation and your future as soon as possible.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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