Recently in Money Laundering Category

February 28, 2012

Bankers Meet to Discuss Money Laundering

Bankers, lawyers, regulators, government officials, and other financial professionals met to discuss what they perceive as an ongoing battle against money laundering. Criminal defense lawyers in Miami have battled money laundering cases over the years both in state and federal court. While money laundering is considered to be a worldwide problem, the meeting occurred locally at the Hotel Intercontinental Miami on February 23, 2012. About 1,200 people from about 40 countries participated in the event. The event was titled FIBA Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Conference. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the Bank Secrecy Act and exchange information on bank related crimes. All financial lending institutions are required to have programs in place to curtail money laundering.

As money laundering is becoming perceived as a greater problem, a department in the Treasury bureau, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is requiring that banks collect additional information and report suspicious activity. The network is the part of the bureau that collects and analyzes suspicious financial transactions. Proponents of the changes say that the added regulations will assist law enforcement and regulators. Other than Miami, the Mexican drug trafficking cartels have become an area of key concern for banks and regulators, alike. Mexico has restricted vendors in that country from entering transactions involving U.S. dollars. Mexican cartels are accused of smuggling U.S. dollars from the United States to Mexico with the money eventually re-crossing the border and ending up in U.S. banks.

Money laundering charges usually accompany other charges both in state and federal court. Money laundering charges can be found in informations and indictments also charging drug trafficking, mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud, securities fraud, tax fraud, mail and wire fraud. The Florida Money Laundering Act is the controlling legislation in state court. An individual can be charged with money laundering if a person knows the property involved in a financial transaction represents proceeds from some form of illegal activity and that the person also conducted a financial transaction with the proceeds with the intent to promote the carrying on of the illegal activity, or with the intent to conceal or disguise the source of the money, or to avoid financial transaction reporting requirements. The severity of the punishment depends on the amount of the property involved in the alleged money laundering.

An illegal financial transaction involving property between $300 and $20,000 is a 3rd degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. A transaction between $20,000 and $100,000.00 is a felony in the second degree and is punishable up to 15 years in prison. A transaction in excess of $100,000.00 is a 1st degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison, the bottom of the guidelines is four years in prison. Other potential punishments include exorbitant fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the criminal punishments are not enough, the government agency involved in the investigation may seek an asset forfeiture of the tainted proceeds. A forfeiture action in state court is a separate case in civil court to be litigated apart from the criminal case.

Fighting Money Laundering a Constant Battle for Banks, Miami, February 23, 2012.

June 21, 2010

Broward County Burglary Suspect Charged with Racketeering and Money Laundering

A Broward County man accused of being involved in the burglary of homes and the theft of more than $2.7 million in high end jewelry in West Palm Beach and throughout the South Florida area was formally charged with two counts of racketeering and one count of money laundering. Kane Steven Lopez of Hallandale is accused of being the leader of the burglary ring. He is scheduled to appear in circuit court with his criminal defense lawyer on Friday. The arrest came as part of a joint investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and law enforcement departments form Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, North Miami Beach and Boca Raton.

Because the crimes were committed across several South Florida counties, the Statewide Prosecutor's Office will be pursuing the charges against Lopez and his co-defendants. In many cases where crimes were committed in several counties, the Statewide Office will handle the prosecution, especially in high-profile cases, such as this one. Along with Lopez, several other individuals were arrested for their involvement in the burglary ring. Three of the defendants are Miami residents, while one of defendants is a Georgia resident. All of the defendants except one is in custody.

The allegations against the defendants mirror the crimes committed by the "Dinner Set Gang" that stole millions of dollars in worth of jewelry and personal items back in the 1960's. Since the 60's there have many imitators of the dinner set operation. In 2007, teenagers committed numerous burglaries in the Boynton and Delray Beach area.

The arrest affidavit charging Lopez and his relatives alleges that Jose Lorenzo, Silvia Ordonez, Emery Lorenzo, and Michael Chala burglarized the homes, stole expensive jewelry and sold the goods to Lopez who owned the North Miami Beach Apawen shop, "Gold for Less". Other jewelry was sold to Swiss jewelers, as well as to other jewelers located in the South Florida area. Lopez sold other items to Lazaro Teneiro who would allegedly take the jewelry back to his home in Georgia and sell it on Ebay.

Court documents allege that the defendants would go out on weekends and commit the burglaries. They had a fairly sophisticated operation. Surveillance footage revealed the burglars using masks and two-way radios. The victims suffered losses ranging from almost a million dollars to $100,000. The burglaries are reported to have occurred between June 13, 2009 and February 5, 2010. The majority of the defendants provided statements to law enforcement. As is the case in most burglary rings, law enforcement make one case against the defendants and upon their arrests, they admit to several others.

Police Arrest Six People in Burglary Ring, The Miami, June 21, 2010.

April 2, 2010

Numerous People Arrested for Money Laundering

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.