Money Laundering: An Overview

Understanding Money Laundering

The process of turning illicit funds into legitimate money is commonly known as money laundering. According to the UN Vienna 1988 Convention, money laundering involves the conversion or transfer of property, with the knowledge that it originates from criminal activities, in order to conceal its illicit origins or assist others in evading legal consequences[^1^]. Criminals resort to money laundering schemes to transform their ill-gotten gains into “clean” money that can be declared, deposited into financial institutions, and used freely in commerce. Governments worldwide have enacted laws to combat money laundering, including regulations on reporting large cash deposits and declaring significant sums of cash at international borders^2^.

The Consequences of Money Laundering Crimes

Although money laundering is sometimes seen as a less serious offense, the penalties for conviction can be severe. In the United States, money laundering offenses are governed by 18 U.S. Code §1956 and 18 U.S. Code §1957. Consider the following statistics released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission:

  • The average guideline minimum sentence in 2021 was 115 months.
  • Offenders convicted of money laundering received an average sentence of 69 months.
  • 90.5 percent of convicted defendants were sentenced to prison.
  • 30.9 percent faced mandatory minimum penalties[^3^].

Penalties associated with money laundering may be imposed on financial institutions, businesses, and individuals. In 2020 alone, global banks faced fines amounting to $10.4 billion, reflecting the ease with which illicit funds can be electronically transferred worldwide^4^. Violation of Section 1856 of the U.S. Code can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $500,000 or twice the value of the involved property[^5^].

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What Is a Target Letter?

In federal investigations, suspects may receive a “target letter” informing them of their status as the subject of a grand jury investigation. Typically used in “white-collar” criminal cases, such as money laundering, a target letter outlines the nature of the offense under investigation and may request contact, document production, and set deadlines for responding[^6^]. If you receive a target letter, it is crucial to take immediate action to safeguard your interests. Ignoring the letter or tampering with evidence may worsen your situation. Consulting with an experienced federal money laundering attorney before responding is advisable^7^.

Defending Against Money Laundering Prosecutions

Federal money laundering investigations are often complex, involving multiple law enforcement agencies and crossing international boundaries. Defense strategies for money laundering charges depend on the specific circumstances of each case, but they can include:

  • Demonstrating that the funds have a legitimate, legal source.
  • Establishing a lack of knowledge and intent required for a money laundering conviction.
  • Challenging the government’s failure to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Providing substantial assistance to the government in exchange for reduced charges or a lighter sentence^8^.

Seek Guidance from an Experienced Federal Money Laundering Attorney

When facing a suspected money laundering operation, it’s crucial to act promptly, as investigations may involve multiple well-resourced agencies. By engaging an experienced federal money laundering attorney, you can address the situation before criminal charges are filed. Attorney David Haas, a former state and federal prosecuting attorney, possesses invaluable insights into the procedures and tactics employed during federal investigations. The Haas Law team can leverage their knowledge and experience to protect and defend you against federal money laundering charges[^9^].

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To discuss your legal options, contact us at Garrity Traina today. We understand the urgency in such matters, and our lines are open 24/7, allowing you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

[^1^]: Money Laundering Act, 1988, art. 3.1.

[^3^]: U.S. Sentencing Commission, “Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics,” 2021.

[^5^]: Money Laundering Control Act of 1986, 18 U.S.C. § 1956.
[^6^]: U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, “9-11.152 Target Letters,” 2021.

[^9^]: Haas Law, “Federal Money Laundering Defense,”