Sixteen people were arrested in a multi-jurisdictional sting. Federal law enforcement officers made arrests in Florida, New York and Puerto Rico. The individuals arrested were indicted on money laundering charges. The indictment alleges that the defendants moved in excess of $7 million in drug trafficking proceeds on commercial flights mainly from Puerto Rico to Miami. The defendants will face charges in the Southern District of Florida. It is unclear whether privately retained Miami criminal attorneys or criminal lawyers from the Federal Public Defender's Office will represent the interests of the defendants in this case. Court documents revealed that bundles of cash were placed in luggage and transported via commercial liners.
For years Miami has been the hub that cocaine trafficking rings have used to funnel their drugs into the county and funnel the proceeds out of the country. As a result, the federal government through Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have spent tons of money and man hours to curb the South Florida problem. In many cases the drug profits made up of U.S. dollars are shipped south to Latin American countries and exchanged on the black market for foreign currencies. Two of the defendants in this most recent case were residents of Miami and would allegedly routinely smuggle about $100,000 out of the United States at a time. The lead defendants was arrested at his home earlier this month and during the execution of the search warrant suitcases containing $447,000 were discovered by law enforcement.
The charge of money laundering is a serious offense and involves transactions with criminally derived funds. There are two federal money laundering statutes. Both statutes criminalize money laundering, but the first statute requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant acted with specific intent while the second statute merely requires that the defendant had knowledge of the crime. The first statute is more serious and carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, while the second statute carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. While a typical case involves a scenario where individuals derive a scheme to make illegally obtained and tainted money appear legitimate, there are less obvious activities that could constitute money laundering under the statutes. Due to potential of a long prison sentence, anyone facing federal money laundering charges should retain a criminal law firm experienced in defending these types of cases.
The federal sentencing statutes will provide the court with a recommended sentencing guideline. Of course the guidelines will be determined by the amount the government can prove was involved in the money laundering scheme. Money laundering carries a base level of 8 under the guidelines. Levels will be added depending on the amount laundered. If an individual launders in excess of $7 million, but less than $20 million, they are subject to a 20 level increase. Under the guidelines, assuming a person has no prior criminal record, a defendant under this scenario is facing between 78 and 97 months in prison. There are no minimum mandatory sentences that apply either in the federal or state court system.
16 Face Charges in Money Laundering Scheme, The Miami Herald, April 1, 2010.