Since criminals cannot declare on their taxes (assuming they pay taxes) that they earned their money illegally and through criminal activity, they need to “wash” their capital so that it appears clean if it were to ever come under government scrutiny. Money laundering, therefore, is the act of “washing” money, or manipulating it through illegal financial and accounting methods, so that the true and illegal source of the cash is not uncovered.

Money laundering is a federal crime. While almost all of us have heard the term, few really understand its definition. Money laundering is the willful act of disguising the origins of illegally obtained capital by making it appear that the money came from a legal source. Specifically under federal law:

  • It is illegal for someone who knows that capital or property represents the proceeds of criminal activity to conduct a financial transaction with that money with the intent to promote a specified unlawful activity or to commit tax evasion.
  • The same type of transaction is also illegal if it is intended to hide or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of a specified unlawful activity or to avoid a transaction reporting requirement.
  • It is also illegal to transport, transmit, or transfer any monetary instrument from the U.S. to a location outside the U.S. to promote a specified unlawful activity or to hide or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of such activity, or to avoid a transaction reporting requirement. A “monetary instrument” includes coin or currency of the U.S. or any other nation, personal checks, travelers’ checks, bank checks, capital orders, investment securities, or negotiable instruments.

In order to operate their schemes, money launderers will often declare illegal funds as profits from legitimate businesses. In the past, cash heavy businesses were the preferred facade to hide illegal money laundering efforts, but as criminals become smarter and gain access to more advanced forms of technology, just about any kind of business in this day and age can be hiding some form of capital laundering – and under New York Law, this is probably true.

The government of New York, the United States, and countries around the world spend billions of dollars each year trying to combat capital laundering.  The reason laundering capital is so dangerous is because, in many instances, the money laundered promotes organized crime or international terrorism. That’s part of the reason why the state of New York sets no amount on the amount of funds needed to be laundered in order to be considered a crime. New York considers laundering an amount as little as a single dollar to be a crime under money laundering statutes.

Make no mistake about it, the state of New York has bigger fish to fry than people who attempt to launder a single dollar, but it will pursue charges against those who it suspects of money laundering swiftly and with the full force of the law.

There are several reasons why the authorities might accuse a person of laundering money.  They generally have to do with how the person handles their capital .  Since criminals don’t like to leave a paper trail, anyone who works in a cash intensive business is automatically placed under heavier scrutiny than those who are not.  In fact, so are people who declare gambling winnings, because of the tactics used by criminals.

If the state gets wind of an attempt to launder money within its area of legal jurisdiction, it will compile evidence against the suspected money launderer and will present that evidence to a prosecutor. The prosecutor will then review the evidence and decide whether or not to proceed with charges. If the prosecutor does decide to pursue charges, then the suspected launderer will be arraigned and a date for trial will be set. Before the date of trial arrives, money laundering suspects in New York are highly encouraged to partner with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The defense attorney will handle the legal process on the suspect’s behalf and will advise the suspect of his or her best legal options considering the facts and evidence in a case.

Before a person actually makes contact with his or her attorney following an arrest for money laundering, that person will usually have near constant contact with law enforcement officials. Under no circumstances should questions be answered or comments made about the allegations. Its a prosecutor’s job to compile evidence, not a suspect’s job to provide it. In fact, even before an arrest, the right to remain silent should be invoked. Invoking the right to remain silent, the U.S Supreme Court recently ruled, is the only way to ensure the full protections of the 5th amendment, the one that guarantees the right not to self incriminate. If questions are asked of the suspect, the suspect should inform the officer or investigator that answers to questions will be deferred until he or she speaks with an attorney.

The facts of each case will determine exactly how harsh a punishment, if even at all, a person accused of laundering money in New York is due.  However, having the facts of a case clearly heard can be difficult without the help of an experienced money laundering defense attorney. A conviction for money laundering can mean up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater. If you’re accused of money laundering anywhere in the New York City area, obtain legal help immediately and consult with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. Under the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986, if you launder $1 you will receive the same legal treatment as the person who launders $10,000,000.

A charge of money laundering is not an automatic conviction. It’s possible to be charged with money laundering over a misunderstanding with no criminal intent; it’s also conceivable that someone could be confused or tricked into participating in money laundering. Every case is different, but if you face a money laundering charge in the New York City area, it’s imperative to speak immediately with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney.