Money laundering is an offense that follows a previous crime and is entered into to further an individual’s criminal activities. The individual puts the money gained through a crime into a financial transaction. The theory is that in goes “dirty money,” and comes out as “clean” profits. However, under California law, the money and the activity are never clean and legal.
After being charged with money laundering, an individual’s first call should be to a San Diego money laundering attorney. A defendant needs a lawyer with experience in litigating fraud-related crimes, and who knows how to offer a strong defense in court.
What is Money Laundering?
According to California Penal Code §186.10, money laundering is when a person conducts or attempts to conduct a transaction through one or more financial institutions with the specific intent to carry out criminal activity and knowing that the money came directly or indirectly from criminal activity. The offender must conduct more than $5,000 in transactions within seven days or $25,000 in transactions in 30 days. Money laundering from drug-related crimes is also addressed under California Health & Safety Code §11370.9.
The purpose of this activity is to hide money or make it so its origins can’t be tracked. The need for money laundering often arises by criminal activities that generate large amounts of cash, like drug dealing or fraud crimes. By putting dirty money into bank accounts or legitimate businesses, the future funds or profits look as if they came from a clean and reputable source.
Examples of Money Laundering
The term may invoke images of cash tumbling through a washer and dryer, but the activity often involves bank deposits or false business transactions. Some examples of money laundering include:
- A small-business owner earns thousands of dollars each week by selling illegal drugs. He uses the illegally obtained cash to make fake transactions at his store.
- An individual embezzles funds from work and then deposits large checks into his personal bank account.
- Someone obtains a large amount of money due to fraud and purchases real estate throughout California.
- An individual steals a large sum of cash by robbing a bank and then opens numerous small checking and savings accounts at banks throughout the state of California.
- A person commits extortion and deposits the blackmail proceeds into a bank account. He then wires the money to other bank accounts to try and create confusion.
Consequences of Money Laundering
Under either California statute, money laundering can be a misdemeanor or felony offense. The charge depends heavily on the specific facts of the case, the alleged offender’s history, and the discretion of the prosecutor.
A misdemeanor carries with it a penalty up to one year in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
However, a felony comes with a much harsher sentence. An individual can be sentenced to up to three years in jail and whichever is greater: a fine up to $250,000 or twice the amount of money laundered.
The amount of money laundered also matters. If an individual laundered more than $50,000 but less than $150,000, he or she can have another year in prison added to their sentence. More than $150,000 but less than $1 million adds on two years in prison, while more than $1 million but less than $2.5 million adds three years onto the prison sentence. More than $2.5 million laundered adds four years onto a prison sentence.
Prior money laundering convictions increase the consequences with a fine up to $500,000 or five times the laundered amount, whichever is greater.
Additionally, depending on how the money was obtained, individuals may be required to pay restitution. This means they have to pay their victims backs.
Money Laundering: A Federal Offense
In addition to California law, money laundering is often a federal offense if the proceeding criminal activity or money laundering involved interstate commerce. For instance, if the small-business owner lived and worked in Las Vegas, Nevada, but crossed the state border into California to sell drugs, he could be charged with a federal crime.
Another example is if the individual who robbed a bank California then deposits the money into multiple accounts in California and Oregon banks, interstate commerce is involved and he or she can be charged with a federal offense.
Contact a San Diego Money Laundering Lawyer
There are many strong defenses to a charge of money laundering, and these are best executed in court by an experienced San Diego money laundering lawyer. You may be able to argue you lacked knowledge that the money came from a crime or that you didn’t have the criminal intent to launder the money. You may also be able to show the proceeds didn’t amount to the minimums for money laundering under California law.
Money laundering is a serious offense and likely comes with additional charges related to theft or fraud. A trained San Diego criminal defense attorney like Jessica McElfresh will get to know the specific facts of your case and devise the strongest defense possible for you. Her goal will be to prove your innocence, but if a conviction is likely, her strategy will include minimizing the consequences of a conviction.