hardyp@ballardspahr.com | 215.864.8838 | view full bio

Peter is a national thought leader on money laundering, tax fraud, and other financial crime. He is the author of Criminal Tax, Money Laundering, and Bank Secrecy Act Litigation, a comprehensive legal treatise published by Bloomberg BNA.  Peter co-chairs the Practising Law Institute's Anti-Money Laundering program, and serves on the Steering Committee for the Cambridge Forum on Sanctions & AML Compliance

He advises corporations and individuals from many industries against allegations of misconduct ranging from money laundering, tax fraud, mortgage fraud and lending law violations, securities fraud, and public corruption.  He also advises on compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering requirements.  Peter handles complex litigation involving allegations of fraud or other misconduct.

Peter spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor before entering private practice, serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia working on financial crime cases. He was a trial attorney for the Criminal Section of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division in Washington, D.C.

Strategy Touts Regulations on Beneficial Ownership, Real Estate and Investment Advisers, but Bemoans Lack of Supervisory Resources for Non-Bank Financial Institutions

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has issued its 2024 National Strategy for Combatting Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing (“Strategy”).  It is a 55-page document which, according to the government’s press release, “addresses the key risks from the 2024 National Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Proliferation Financing Risk Assessments. . . and details how the United States will build on recent historic efforts to modernize the U.S. anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime, enhance operational effectiveness in combating illicit actors, and embrace technological innovation to mitigate risks.”

The Strategy discusses an enormous list of topics.  Given the breadth of its scope, the Strategy generally makes only very high-level comments regarding any particular topic.  This post accordingly is extremely high level as well, and offers only a few select comments. 

Continue Reading  Treasury Issues Broad National Strategy for Combatting Illicit Financing

On April 20, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (“DoBS”) issued a policy statement (“Policy Statement”) to “clarify” that the Department’s interpretation of the term “money” in the Pennsylvania Money Transmitter Act (“MTA”) includes “virtual currency, such as Bitcoin.”  The MTA provides in part that “[n]o person shall engage in the business of transmitting money by means of a transmittal instrument for a fee or other consideration with or on behalf of an individual without first having obtained a license from the department.’”

Thus, the Policy Statement means that virtual currency exchangers and related businesses doing business in Pennsylvania must become licensed as money transmitters.  The effective date of the Policy Statement is October 15, 2024.  Neither the DoBS nor the MTA define “virtual currency.”

Continue Reading  PA Department of Banking and Securities: Virtual Currency is “Money”

Enforcement Trends, Gaming, Crypto — and More

I am very pleased to co-chair again the Practicing Law Institute’s 2024 Anti-Money Laundering Conference on May 23, 2024, starting at 9 a.m. in New York City (the event also will be virtual). 

I am also really fortunate to be working with my fabulous co-chair Elizabeth (Liz) Boison

On May 3, 2024, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) jointly released the “Third-Party Risk Management: A Guide for Community Banks” (the “Guide”), presenting it as a resource for community banks to bolster their third-party risk management programs, policies, and practices.

The Guide serves as a companion to the Interagency Guidance on Third-Party Relationship: Risk Management issued in June 2023 (on which we blogged, here).  It also relates to the OCC’s Fall 2023 Semiannual Risk Perspective, which emphasizes the need for banks to maintain prudent risk management practices – including practices tailored to address Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”)/Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) compliance risks with respect to fintech relationships.

The Guide acknowledges the widespread collaborations between community banks and third-party entities, and recognizes the strategic importance for such partnerships to improve competitiveness and adaptability. These collaborations provide community banks with access to a diverse array of resources, such as new technologies, risk management tools, skilled personnel, delivery channels, products, services, and market opportunities.

However, the Guide underscores that reliance on third parties entails a loss of direct operational control, thereby exposing community banks to a spectrum of risks.  Banks are still accountable for executing all activities in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.  “These laws and regulations include . . . those designed to protect consumers (such as fair lending laws and prohibitions against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices) and those addressing financial crimes (such as fraud and money laundering).”  Accordingly, the Guide emphasizes that the engagement of third parties does not absolve a bank of its responsibility to operate in a safe and sound manner and to comply with regulatory requirements, “just as if the bank were to perform the service or activity itself.”  The Guide sets forth this concept in bold, on the first page. 

The Guide’s emphasis on governance practices highlights the critical role of oversight, accountability, and documentation in ensuring regulatory compliance and safeguarding the interests of both banks and their customers.   Although the Guide styles itself as offering a framework tailored to the specific needs and challenges faced by community banks, it also offers direction to all financial institutions in regards to effective third-party risk management. 

Continue Reading  Federal Banking Agencies Issue Guide to Third-Party Risk Management Practices for Community Banks

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) recently issued a Financial Trend Analysis (“Analysis”) focusing on patterns and trends identified in Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) data linked to Elder Financial Exploitation (“EFE”) involving scams or theft perpetrated against older adults.

The Analysis is a follow up to FinCEN’s June 2022 EFE Advisory (“2022 Advisory”). The Analysis reviews BSA reports filed between June 15, 2022 and June 15, 2023 that either used the key term referenced in the 2022 Advisory (“EFE FIN-2022-A002”) or checked “Elder Financial Exploitation” as a suspicious activity type.  In its 2022 Advisory, FinCEN warned financial institutions (“FIs”) about the rising trend of EFE, which FinCEN defines as “the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets, and is often perpetrated either through theft or scams.” The 2022 Advisory identified 12 “behavioral” and 12 “financial” red flags to help FIs detect, prevent, and report suspicious activity connected to EFE. Additionally, FinCEN recommended EFE victims file incident reports to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Trade Commission. Consistent with a risk-based approach to BSA compliance, FinCEN encouraged FIs to perform additional due diligence where appropriate.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Issues Analysis of Increasing Elder Financial Exploitation

Form Would Impose De Facto KYC Obligations Relating to Unhosted Wallets

On April 18, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued a draft version of Form 1099-DA, a proposed information reporting form regarding certain digital asset sales and exchanges that “digital asset brokers” will need to file with the IRS and provide to the individuals involved in the sales and exchanges (“Draft Form”). The detailed and complicated Draft Form would be the first of its kind. 

If ultimately promulgated, the Draft Form and its supporting regulations would impose customer identification obligations upon a potentially broad swath of digital industry participants, including those who currently take the position that they do not need to collect customer identification information because they provide only decentralized finance (“DeFi”) services and/or provide only “unhosted” digital wallet services. Such customer identification obligations would be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), rather than – as has been discussed for years – anti-money laundering (“AML”) and Know Your Customer (“KYC”) requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). From the perspective of the digital asset industry, the precise source of the obligations would not matter much, because the practical consequences would be similar: they will need to collect tax identification information from sellers and buyers of digital assets.   

Continue Reading  IRS Unveils Broad Draft Information Reporting Form for Digital Asset Transactions

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) has issued a Notice on the Use of Counterfeit U.S. Passport Cards to Perpetrate Identity Theft and Fraud Schemes at Financial Institutions (“Notice”), asking financial institutions (“FIs”) to be vigilant in identifying suspicious activity relating to the use of counterfeit U.S. passport cards.  According to the Notice, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) has determined that there is a growing use of such counterfeit cards to gain access to victim accounts at FIs.  “This fraud occurs in person at [FIs] and involves an individual impersonating a victim by using a counterfeit U.S. passport card that contains the victim’s actual information.”

As its title plainly states, the Notice pertains to passport cards, rather than passport books.  Passport cards have more limited uses and can be used only for land, sea and domestic air travel into the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.  The following graphic from the Department of State illustrates the difference. 

The Notice observes that FIs are less likely to detect fraud involving passport cards because they are a less familiar form of U.S. government-issued identification.  Victims’ personal identifiable information (“PII”) is typically acquired through the darknet or the U.S. mail (see our blog post on the surge in mail-theft check fraud here).  After a fake card is created, the illicit actor or complicit money mule will visit a branch of the victim’s FI – often by trying to avoid any branches that the victim actually may visit, so as to reduce the chances of detection.

Continue Reading  FinCEN Issues Notice on Counterfeit Passport Card Fraud

Today we are very pleased to welcome guest blogger Lili Infante, who is the CEO of CAT Labs – a tech company building digital asset recovery and quantum-resistant cryptography tools to fight crypto crime.  Lili previously spent a decade as a DEA Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Justice and pioneered an early federal task force focusing exclusively on crypto and dark web crimes. Lili has led numerous major crypto-related investigations to include the takedown of Hydra – the largest crypto-powered dark web criminal organization and money laundering platform in the world.

We reached out to Lili because her work is fascinating and increasingly important.  Law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Treasury Department and other regulators are focused on vulnerabilities and potential gaps in the United States’ anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”) regulatory, supervisory, and enforcement regimes in regards to the use and misuse of virtual assets and decentralized finance.  Virtual assets can be the vehicle of choice for terrorist financing, fraud schemes, and state-sponsored cyber crime.  Meanwhile, agencies such as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) struggle to find proposed regulatory solutions.

This blog post again takes the form of a Q&A session, in which Lili responds to questions posed by Money Laundering Watch about investigating crypto-related illicit activity and recovering digital assets. We hope you enjoy this discussion on this important topic. – Peter Hardy

Continue Reading  Fighting Crypto Crime:  A Guest Blog.

With Guest Speaker IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jonathan Schnatz

We are very fortunate to have Special Agent Jonathan Schnatz as our guest speaker in this podcast on international efforts to investigate tax evasion and money laundering, and how they relate to criminal investigations and civil audits of U.S. businesses and individuals.

Special Agent Schnatz

On March 1, Judge Liles C. Burke of the Northern District of Alabama issued a Memorandum Opinion (“Opinion”) and Final Judgment, finding that the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”) is unconstitutional.  We blogged on this lawsuit when it was filed in November 2022.

The opening paragraph of the Opinion is worthy of repetition:

The late Justice Antonin Scalia once remarked that federal judges should have a rubber stamp that says STUPID BUT CONSTITUTIONAL. See Jennifer Senior, In Conversation: Antonin Scalia, New York Magazine, Oct. 4, 2013. The Constitution, in other words, does not allow judges to strike down a law merely because it is foolish, burdensome or offensive. Yet the inverse is also true—the wisdom of a policy is no guarantee of its constitutionality. Indeed, even in the pursuit of sensible and praiseworthy ends, Congress sometimes enacts smart laws that violate the Constitution. This case, which concerns the constitutionality of the Corporate Transparency Act, illustrates that principle.

Having set the tone, the Opinion proceeds to reject the government’s three arguments that Congress had the authority to enact the CTA under the following enumerated and broad powers:

1.         Congress’ ability to oversee foreign affairs and national security;

2.         Congress’ ability to regulate under the Commerce Clause; and

3.         Congress’ taxing power.

As we will discuss, the Opinion reaches its conclusions by generally taking a broad view of States’ autonomy and a narrow view of the ability of Congress to regulate primarily “local” activity in the name of protecting national security.  It also finds that Congress cannot regulate the act of incorporation alone, and that the CTA presumably could pass constitutional muster if it applied only when a reporting entity actually begins to engage in commercial activity.  The immediate, nationwide effects of the Opinion are hard to predict at this time, other than to observe simply that the Opinion will have significant impact, and that confusion will ensue.

Continue Reading  Federal District Court Ruling:  The CTA is Unconstitutional