A recent court opinion emphasizes the sensitive issues involved in terminating potentially difficult employees — or, from the employee’s or perhaps the government’s perspective, in terminating whistleblowers who were retaliated against for being willing to point out compliance failures. Although this competing dynamic applies across all industries, a recent opinion from the U.S. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Kell v. Iberville Bank, addressed such a situation in the Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”)/Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) context, in which a bank’s former compliance officer sued her former employer for allegedly terminating her in retaliation for raising uncomfortable issues about claimed insider abuse and the alleged failure to file a Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”). Continue Reading Case Highlights Potential Protections for BSA Whistleblowers
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 well-reviewed and comprehensive legal treatise published by Bloomberg BNA.
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, health care fraud, public corruption, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, and identity theft and data breaches. He also advises on compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering requirements.
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.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, issued last month a Report, entitled The Internal Revenue Service’s Bank Secrecy Act Program Has Minimal Impact on Compliance, which sets forth a decidedly dim view of the utility and effectiveness of the current Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) compliance efforts by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). The primary conclusions of the detailed Report are that (i) referrals by the IRS to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) for potential Title 31 penalty cases suffer lengthy delays and have little impact on BSA compliance; (ii) the IRS BSA Program spent approximately $97 million to assess approximately $39 million in penalties for Fiscal Years (FYs) 2014 to 2016; and (iii) although referrals regarding BSA violations were made to IRS Criminal Investigation (“IRS CI”), most investigations were declined and very few ultimately were accepted by the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Arguably, the most striking claim by the Report is that “Title 31 compliance reviews [by the IRS] have minimal impact on Bank Secrecy Act compliance because negligent violation penalties are not assessed.”
A primary take-away from the Report is that an examination program lacking actual enforcement power is, unsurprisingly, not very effective. The Report also highlights some potential problems which beset the IRS BSA Program, which include lack of staffing, lack of planning and coordination, and delay. Although the Report’s findings clearly suggest that what the IRS BSA Program really needs are resources and enhanced enforcement power, the repeated allusions in the Report to a certain purposelessness of the current BSA examination regime nonetheless might help fuel the current debate regarding possible AML/BSA reform, with an eye towards curbing regulatory burden.
The Report made five specific recommendations to the IRS for remedial steps. We will focus on four of those recommendations, and the findings upon which they rest:
- Coordinate with FINCEN on the authority to assert Title 31 penalties, or reprioritize BSA Program resources to more productive work;
- Leverage the BSA Program’s Title 31 authority and annual examination planning in the development of the IRS’s virtual currency strategy;
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the newly implemented review procedures for FinCEN referrals; and
- Improve the process for referrals to IRS CI.
Denmark Suffers Greatest Increase in Annual Risk Rating
The Basel Institute on Governance (“Basel Institute”) recently announced that the associated Basel Centre for Asset Recovery has released its seventh annual Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index (“AML Index”) for 2018, described by the Basel Institute as “an independent, research-based ranking that assesses countries’ risk exposure to money laundering and terrorist financing.” The risk scores for each country in the AML Index “are based on 14 publicly available indicators of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) frameworks, corruption risk, financial transparency and standards, and public transparency and accountability.” The Basel Institute, which is associated with the University of Basel, describes itself as “an independent not-for-profit competence centre working around the world with the public and private sectors to counter corruption and other financial crimes and to improve the quality of governance.”
The public AML Index, which pertains to 129 countries, is here; an “expert edition” containing a full list of scores and sub-indicators for all 203 countries — available for cost to private persons or industry, or for free to academic, public, supervisory and non-profit organizations — is here. A summary of the public AML Index is here.
As we will discuss, the AML Index bemoans a lack of progress in the global fight against corruption, and in particular cites lack of enforcement of existing laws and declining press freedom across the globe. The AML Index also underscores how countries with seeming low risk in fact have lurking problems. Continue Reading 2018 Basel AML Index Measures Risk and Cites Lack of Effective Enforcement and Declining Global Press Freedom
Guest Post by Darpana Sheth of the Institute of Justice
We are pleased to present this guest blog by Darpana Sheth, who is a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice (“IJ”). As Ms. Sheth explains, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument later this Fall in Timbs v. State of Indiana, one of the most anticipated cases this term, and which will test severely civil forfeiture laws. As Ms. Sheth notes, Mr. Timbs lost a “$42,000 vehicle for selling less than $400 worth of drugs.” Civil forfeiture is a unique issue on which traditional rivals across the political spectrum can agree, because it can unite individual and property right interests.
Ms. Sheth serves as Director of IJ’s Nationwide Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse. Currently, she is lead counsel in an unprecedented federal class action against the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and state court judges for their egregious civil-forfeiture practices. Although the following is subject to approval by the Court, this class action has secured an extremely favorable settlement agreement.
Previously, Ms. Sheth represented the State of New York as an Assistant Attorney General, worked as a litigator at Chadbourne & Parke, LLP, and clerked for the Honorable Jerome A. Holmes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. We hope that you enjoy this discussion by Ms. Sheth of these important issues. -Peter Hardy
This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument in Timbs v. State of Indiana, one of the most anticipated cases this term. At issue is whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines applies to state and local governments just as it has applied to the federal government since 1791. (Or, using the technical term, whether the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the States.)
The case involves the civil forfeiture of a $42,000 vehicle for selling less than $400 worth of drugs. As recounted in a video news release, Tyson Timbs was prescribed opioids for foot pain. In an all-too-familiar tale of opioid addiction, Timbs turned to heroin when his prescription ran out. When police arrested him and seized his vehicle during a drug sting, Timbs pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years—one year on home detention (with his aunt) and five years on probation, including a court-supervised addiction-treatment program. The court also assessed Timbs more than $1,200 in criminal court costs and fees. Continue Reading Must All 50 States Comply with the U.S. Constitution’s Prohibition Against Excessive Fines?
The Federal Banking Agencies (“FBAs”) — collectively the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”); the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“Federal Reserve”); the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”); and the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”) — just issued with the concurrence of FinCEN an Order granting an exemption from the requirements of the customer identification program (“CIP”) rules imposed by the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) under 31 U.S.C. § 5318(l) for certain premium finance loans. The Order applies to “banks” — as defined at 31 C.F.R. § 1010.100(d) — and their subsidiaries which are subject to the jurisdiction of the OCC, Federal Reserve, FDIC, or NCUA.
The Order generally describes the CIP rules of the BSA, which at a very high level require covered financial institutions to implement a CIP “that includes risk-based verification procedures that enable the [financial institution] to form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identify of its customers.” This process involves gathering identifying information and procedures for verifying the customer’s identity. Further observing that, under 31 C.F.R. § 1020.220(b), a FBA with the concurrence of the Secretary of the Treasury may exempt any bank or type of account from these CIP requirements, the Order proceeds to exempt loans extended by banks and their subsidiaries from the CIP requirements when issued to commercial customers (i.e., corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and trusts) to facilitate the purchases of property and casualty insurance policies, otherwise known as premium finance loans or premium finance lending.
The key to the exemption — similar to other narrow exemptions previously issued by FinCEN in regards to the related beneficial ownership rule (as we have blogged, see here and here) — is that these transactions are perceived as presenting a “low risk of money laundering.” This finding is repeated throughout the Order, and is rooted in arguments made in letters submitted to FinCEN and the FBAs by a “consortium of banks.”
More specifically, the Order explains that premium finance loans present a low risk of money laundering, and therefore are exempt from the CIP rules, because of the following considerations and “structural characteristics,” raised either by the consortium of banks and/or the government itself:
- The process for executing a premium finance loan is highly automated, because “most . . . loan volume is quoted and recorded electronically.”
- These loans typically are submitted, approved and funded within the same business day and are conducted through insurance agents or brokers with no interaction between the bank and borrower — which means that this process renders it difficult for banks to gather CIP-related information efficiently. These practical problems are exacerbated by the frequent reluctance of insurance brokers and agents — driven by data privacy concerns — to collect personal information.
- Property and casualty insurance policies have no investment value.
- Borrowers cannot use these accounts to purchase merchandise, deposit or withdraw cash, write checks or transfer funds.
- FinCEN previously exempted financial institutions that finance insurance premiums from the general requirement to identify the beneficial owners of legal entity customers.
- FinCEN previously exempted financial institutions that finance insurance premiums that allow for cash refunds from the beneficial ownership requirements.
- FinCEN previously exempted commercial property and casualty insurance policies from the general BSA compliance program rule for insurance companies.
- The exemption “is consistent with safe and sound banking.”
Although this exemption is narrow and somewhat technical, it represents yet another step in an apparent trend by FinCEN and the FBAs to ease the regulatory demands, albeit in a very targeted fashion, imposed under the BSA. Clearly, the key argument to be made by other financial institutions seeking similar relief is that the particular kind of financial transaction at issue presents a “low risk of money laundering.”
If you would like to remain updated on these issues, please click here to subscribe to Money Laundering Watch. Please also check out Ballard Spahr’s Consumer Finance Monitor blog, which comprehensively covers financial regulation and litigation involving the CFPB, Federal Agencies, State Agencies, and Attorneys General. To learn more about Ballard Spahr’s Anti-Money Laundering Team, please click here.
Superseding Indictment Alleges an International Web of Tax and Money Laundering Schemes, Facilitated by Professionals and Pierced by an Undercover Agent
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has secured its first conviction ever under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, through the guilty plea of Adrian Baron, a former executive of Loyal Bank Ltd., a bank with offices in Budapest, Hungary and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
FATCA, passed in 2010, generally requires that foreign financial institutions identify their U.S. customers and report information on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders, either directly or through a foreign entity, or be subject to withholding payments. FATCA has become an important tool in the government’s ability to collect information and pursue its enforcement campaign against U.S. taxpayers with undeclared offshore assets. Now, FATCA has demonstrated its utility in enforcing U.S. law against foreign bankers who allegedly may be complicit in attempting to assist U.S. taxpayers hide their assets.
Baron, a citizen of the U.K. and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines who was extradited from Hungary, had been charged in a very detailed Superseding Indictment with assisting an undercover law enforcement agent with attempting to hide the supposed proceeds of fraudulent stock schemes in foreign corporate bank accounts which the undercover agent could control but which could not be traced to him, and which he could use to pay future kickbacks to U.S. brokers involved in other supposed schemes. The Superseding Indictment also charges Loyal Bank itself; a now-insolvent broker-dealer and investment management company located in London, U.K., Beaufort Securities Ltd.; and six individuals, including Baron.
Because the primary goal of FATCA, which we describe in more detail herein, is to deter the direct or indirect use of foreign accounts to facilitate the commission of U.S. tax offenses, it also has a potentially strong and related role in deterring potential money laundering offenses, given the role of foreign shell companies in masking beneficial ownership. Indeed, Baron’s co-defendant, Arvinsingh Canaye, who previously worked as the general manager of Beaufort Management Services Ltd., an entity related to Beaufort Securities but located in Ebene, Mauritius, pleaded guilty on July 26, 2018 to a related charge of conspiring to launder money. This case also highlights once again the potentially pernicious role which professionals can play in facilitating criminal schemes.
FinCEN Cites Low Risk of Money Laundering and High Regulatory Burden of Rule
On September 7, 2018, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued permanent exceptive relief (“Relief”) to the Beneficial Ownership rule (“BO Rule”) that further underscores the agency’s continued flexibility and risk-based approach to the BO Rule.
Very generally, the BO Rule — effective as of May 11, 2018, and about which we repeatedly have blogged (see here, here and here) — requires covered financial institutions to identify and verify the identities of the beneficial owners of legal entity customers at account opening. FinCEN previously stated in April 3, 2018 FAQs regarding the BO Rule that a “new account” is established – thereby triggering the BO Rule – “each time a loan is renewed or a certificate of deposit is rolled over.” As a result, even if covered financial institutions already have identified and verified beneficial ownership information for a customer at the initial account opening, the institutions still must identify and verify that beneficial ownership information again – and for the same customer – if the customer’s account has been renewed, modified, or extended.
However, the Relief now excepts application of the BO Rule when legal entity customers open “new accounts” through: (1) a rollover of a certificate of deposit (CD); (2) a renewal, modification, or extension of a loan, commercial line of credit, or credit card account that does not require underwriting review and approval; or (3) a renewal of a safe deposit box rental. The Relief does not apply to the initial opening of any of these accounts.
The Relief echoes the exceptive relief from the BO Rule granted by FinCEN on May 11, 2018 to premium finance lenders whose payments are remitted directly to the insurance provider or broker, even if the lending involves the potential for a cash refund. Once again, although the Relief is narrow, FinCEN’s explanation for why the excepted accounts present a low risk for money laundering is potentially instructive in other contexts. Continue Reading FinCEN Issues Exceptive Relief from Beneficial Ownership Rule to Certain Account Renewals
Director Blanco Emphasizes Investigatory Leads and Insights Into Illicit Activity Trends Culled from Nationwide BSA Data
As we just blogged, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) Director Kenneth Blanco recently touted the value of Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) in the context of discussing anti-money laundering (“AML”) enforcement and regulatory activity involving digital currency. Shortly thereafter, Director Blanco again stressed the value of SARs, this time during remarks before the 11th Annual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference and Expo, which caters to the AML concerns of the gaming industry.
It is difficult to shake the impression that Director Blanco is repeatedly and publically emphasizing the value of SARs, at least in part, in order to provide a counter-narrative to a growing reform movement — both in the United States and abroad — which: (i) questions the investigatory utility to governments and the mounting costs to the financial industry of the current SAR reporting regime, and (ii) has resulted in proposed U.S. legislation which would raise the minimum monetary thresholds for filing SARs and Currency Transaction Reports (“CTRs”), and require a review of how those filing requirements could be streamlined. Continue Reading FinCEN Director Continues to Push Value of SARs and Other BSA Data
Address Emphasizes Role of SARs in Fighting Illegal Activity, Including Drug Dealing Fueling the Opioid Crisis
Kenneth Blanco, the Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), discussed last week several issues involving virtual currency during an address before the “2018 Chicago-Kent Block (Legal) Tech Conference” at the Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Institute of Technology. Although some of his comments retread familiar ground, Blanco did offer some new insights, including the fact that FinCEN now receives over 1,500 Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) a month relating to virtual currency. Continue Reading FinCEN Director Addresses Virtual Currency and Touts Regulatory Leadership and Value of SAR Filings
Conduct Performed Without Knowledge Still Can Lead to the Most Serious Penalties
Under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), the most onerous civil penalties will be applied for “willful” violations. That mental state standard might sound hard for the government to prove. For example, in criminal and civil tax fraud cases under the Internal Revenue Code, “willfulness” is defined to mean a voluntary and intentional violation of a known legal duty – a very demanding showing. But as we will discuss, two very new court opinions discussing a required BSA filing – a Form TD F 90-22.1, or Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, otherwise know as a FBAR – remind us that, under the BSA, a “willful” violation does not require proof of actual knowledge. A “willful” BSA violation only needs to be reckless, and the government can prove it through the doctrine of “willful blindness” or “conscious avoidance.”
The fact that courts in civil FBAR cases have been holding that “willfulness” can mean “just recklessness” is not a new development, and it is well known to those practicing in the tax fraud and tax controversy space. This blog post will not attempt to delve into the long-running offshore account enforcement campaign that has been waged by the IRS and the DOJ; the related case decisions; or the related voluntary disclosure programs for offshore accounts (for those interested in this fascinating but complicated topic, the Federal Tax Crimes blog is one of many excellent resources). Rather, the point of this post is that the case law now being made in the FBAR and offshore account context will have direct application to more traditional Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”)/BSA enforcement actions, because the civil penalty statute being interpreted in the FBAR cases is the same provision which applies to claimed failures to maintain an adequate AML program and other violations of the BSA. Thus, the target audience of this post is not people involved in undisclosed offshore bank account cases, but rather people involved in day-to-day AML compliance for financial institutions, who may not realize that some missteps may be branded as “willful” and entail very serious monetary penalties, even if they were done without actual knowledge. This may be news to some, and it underscores in particular the risks presented by one the topics that this blog frequently has discussed: the potential AML liability of individuals. Continue Reading The BSA Civil Penalty Regime: Reckless Conduct Can Produce “Willful” Penalties