Money Laundering: Defenses to Avoid the Big House
A former trustee of the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for his alleged role in a Texas money laundering scheme. The defendant was an attorney and philanthropist from El Paso who was arrested in late 2012 by federal law enforcement agents after he allegedly entered into a conspiracy to launder millions of dollars in illegal proceeds realized by a Mexican drug cartel.
An interesting aspect of the case mentioned above is that the defendant had benefited his CMU alma mater with a $250,000 endowment in 2003. That endowment may have put him on the radar of federal law enforcement officials dedicated to monitoring substantial financial transactions, although his money laundering charges allege that he was active from about 2007 to 2008.
Defense Strategies in Money Laundering Cases
Although money laundering crimes are typically prosecuted at the federal level, defendants can also be tried in state courts. The money laundering burden of proof is to establish the defendant as a knowing and willful participant of transactions intended to legitimize proceeds obtained from illegal activities. Since this can be a considerably difficult burden of proof, federal prosecutors sometimes seek convictions under a different section of the United States Code that prohibits individuals from participating in transactions involving more than $10,000 in illegal proceeds, and which does not require defendants to know about the illicit nature of the funds.
When it comes to facing money laundering charges, criminal defense attorneys can approach the case from multiple angles. Prosecutors have two main concerns: To prove that the funds in question came from a criminal enterprise and that the defendant knew about it. Overzealous prosecutors will often claim that all money earned by alleged criminals comes from nefarious sources; alas, this may be difficult to prove when defendants are working professionals such as the Texas attorney in the case mentioned above.
Meticulous forensic accounting can be used by defense teams to weaken prosecutors’ claims and expose flaws in their assertions. Another approach consists of attacking claims about the defendant’s knowledge, intent and level of participation in the alleged illicit transactions. In some cases, people accused of money laundering may have been tricked or unwittingly recruited by others. This can happen in complex schemes involving real estate transactions or business financing.
Basic Criminal Defenses
Money laundering cases are often treated as highly complex white-collar offenses; however, this does not guarantee the integrity of the law enforcement agents who investigate these cases. Money laundering cases are not impervious to improper police procedure such as Miranda rights violations, coercion, intimidation, evidence tampering, questionable investigations, ulterior motives, false statements, political undertones, etc.
Although federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors are supposed to work together in harmony, this is often not the case. Slapdash police work and prosecutorial flaws can be discovered and leveraged by skilled criminal defense attorneys for the benefit of clients charged with money laundering.