Most individuals do not understand what money laundering is, what types of actions can lead to money laundering charges, or the possible legal consequences. Often times individuals associate money laundering with complex criminal organizations moving large amounts of cash or associate it as something that only happens with money from selling drugs. In reality, money laundering charges can be the result of transactions for as little as $300 involving proceeds from any type of illegal activity.
Money laundering is the process of trying to conceal, disguise, hide, or process the proceeds generated from criminal activity to make the funds appear to be from a legitimate or legal source. Some examples of illegal activities that generate money illegally would be the sale of drugs, illegal gambling, bribery, and illegal kickbacks, or theft.
Under Florida law, it is illegal for someone to engage in any financial transaction while knowing the money or property involved is the proceeds from some type of illegal activity. The individual does not need to know what specific illegal activity generated the proceeds or specifically where the money originated from, only that the money or property involved was the proceeds of some type of illegal activity.
There are many different methods or types of transactions used to launder money, including depositing the funds into bank accounts, making investments, gifts, purchases, transferring titles, or depositing funds into businesses. Essentially any movement of illegal proceeds from the illegal source to a legal source is money laundering.
Money laundering is a felony and the level of the charge depends on the amount of money or value of the property involved. For transactions over $300 but less than $20,000, it is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. For transactions of at least $20,000 but less than $100,000, it is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. For transactions of $100,000 or more, it is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Money laundering charges can also result in a civil penalty of not more than the value of the financial transactions involved or $25,000, whichever is greater.
Recent examples of money laundering cases that have made the news in Florida include in January of 2018, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper was arrested and charged with money laundering along with other criminal offenses following an FBI investigation involving political corruption. Mayor Cooper allegedly accepted campaign contributions that exceeded the legal limit from undercover FBI agents acting as land developers who provided the illegal contributions through checks made out under fictitious Russian names and organizations.
In July of 2018, an individual was arrested for grand theft and money laundering in Fort Lauderdale after he allegedly stole over $120,000.00 from a church there.
In October of 2018, an Orlando couple was arrested for allegedly using an automotive business for laundering money from a drug distribution ring. It is alleged the couple made small deposits into bank accounts that added up to over hundreds of dollars over the course of 2 years, with one of the accounts under the automotive business name. Investigators say the money could not be traced to a legitimate source of income and that the business had no employee records or reported any wages for approximately two years.
Given the severity of money laundering charges, anyone facing these charges should consult with an experienced attorney to discuss the possible legal defenses available to them.