Money laundering is the practice of putting illegally begotten money through a series of legal transactions as a means of legitimizing or “cleaning” the money. The money is often obtained through organized crime or racketeering operations and, as such, the government has established laws prohibiting money laundering. When this activity is done efficiently, it can conceal the location of illegally obtained money, as well as hiding the source and the ownership of the money.
New York Laws Prohibit Money Laundering
Under state law, an individual is guilty of money laundering only when he or she is aware that the money used in the transactions was the result of criminal activity. The individual must engage in financial transactions with that money, intending to either continue the criminal activity or to commit a felonious violation of the tax laws. Additionally, one is guilty of money laundering, when the individual engages in financial transactions with the intention to conceal the source, ownership, location, control, or the nature of the money. Similarly, declining to report the earned money may also be used as evidence of money laundering.
The laws regarding money laundering are detailed and complex. For instance, the New York penal code devotes a portion of the law to defining a financial transaction, as it relates to the law. In the context of money laundering, a financial transaction refers to any of the following:
- Wire transfers
- Extension of credit
- Transfer of title
- Currency exchanges
The legal definition for a financial transaction also incorporates any acts made through institutions, such as banks, investment brokers, credit unions, loan companies, or travel agencies. The explanation of a financial transaction also adds that any business capable of processing money falls under the classification, since they can be used to conceal illegally obtained funds.
Facing a Charge of Money Laundering
There are four degrees to money laundering under the penal code and each one carries a different penalty. Money laundering in the fourth degree requires a financial transaction involving at least $5,000 and up to $50,000. It’s a class E felony and carries a prison term of up to four years.
Money laundering in the third degree involves funds over $50,000, but not more than $100,000. As a class D felony, a conviction carries a penalty of up to seven years of imprisonment.
Second degree money laundering involves using illegally begotten funds of over $100,000 up to $1 million in financial transactions. This is a class C felony and carries a prison term of up to 15 years.
Finally, money laundering in the first degree involves funds over $1 million and is a class B felony. As such, a conviction carries a prison term of up to 25 years.
When it comes to defending against money laundering charges, one’s knowledge of the nature of the money is of primary importance. For instance, you may be able to prove that you weren’t aware that the money had been obtained through criminal activity. This may include showing to the court that you hadn’t intended to conceal the money or its source through the financial transactions. You may also be able to prove that you didn’t have the intent to continue or participate in the criminal activity.
In some cases, you may be able to defend yourself by citing entrapment. Where police investigators acted inappropriately, this may be enough to get the charges dismissed. It will depend on the exact circumstances of your case and the expertise of your criminal defense attorney. As these are serious charges and a conviction may change your future ability to find work or get an apartment, it’s important to hire an attorney to help with your defense. An attorney experienced in dealing with money laundering cases can help you prepare a better defense and may improve your chances for a favorable outcome. He may even be able to obtain a deal with the prosecutor to help you get a lighter sentence, if an acquittal isn’t likely. Whatever the circumstances, an attorney who knows the law and the area courts can offer you an advantage that you wouldn’t have otherwise.