In its most recent Marijuana Banking Update, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) stated that the decline in the number of banks and credit unions actively banking marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) in the United States “appears to have leveled off.” As of December 31, 2020, there were 684 banks and credit unions banking MRBs. That
DOJ Charges a U.S. Billionaire, an Alleged International Drug Conspiracy Using Chinese Bank Accounts and a Guatemalan Casino, and a Former Top Mexican Official in the “War on Drugs”
The term “October Surprise” garnered new meaning this year among money laundering enthusiasts with the announcement of three major indictments. All three announcements came on October 15 – at the midpoint of a month of news cycles otherwise dominated by the upcoming United States presidential election. Although these three indictments are all very different from one another in many ways, they all share a core element: the cross-border transfer of allegedly dirty money.
“Largest Ever U.S. Criminal Tax Charge” Bring Money Laundering Charges as Well
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) unsealed a 39-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco, California, charging billionaire Robert T. Brockman, the Chief Executive Officer of Ohio-based software company Reynolds & Reynolds, with conspiring to defraud the United States, tax evasion, wire fraud, money laundering, failing to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBARs”), evidence tampering and destruction of evidence. The charges involve an alleged scheme to conceal approximately $2 billion in income from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), which law enforcement officials have said is the largest ever tax charge in the United States. The wire fraud charges do not attempt to “bootstrap” the false tax returns at the heart of the tax evasion scheme into a wire fraud scheme, but rather rest on an alleged scheme to defraud investors in the software company’s debt securities. Still, Brockman’s indictment is yet another example of the potentially powerful overlap of money laundering and tax fraud charges, both of which often implicate the issue of beneficial ownership and the use of shell companies.…
Continue Reading Criminal Enforcement Round Up: October Yields a Trio of High-Profile Money Laundering Charges With International Focus
Government Suggests that Unusual Pleas are Just the Tip of an Iceberg
Chinese law generally prohibits its citizens from converting more than $50,000 in Chinese yuan into foreign currency in a year. On Monday, two men living in Las Vegas pleaded guilty in federal district court in the Southern District of California to operating an unlicensed money transmitter business, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1960. Allegedly, they ran a scheme in which they helped clients circumvent this Chinese law — as well as the anti-money laundering programs of U.S. financial institutions — by converting electronic funds in China into hard currency in the United States, which the clients then used to gamble at casinos.
The case reflects the continuing ingenuity employed by individuals to use expanding technologies to circumvent currency controls and money laundering laws. The case is also interesting because the defendants allegedly ran their scheme with the help of insiders at the casinos, who provided assistance in exchange for a cut of the cash.…
Continue Reading Guilty Pleas Highlight Illicit Funneling of Chinese Cash to Casinos
Note to Government Personnel: Don’t Disclose SARs
This week, major developments unfolded in the cases against two former federal government employees for their respective roles in disclosing Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).
Historically, prosecutions pertaining to improper SAR disclosures have been supremely rare, so the fact that two court hearings involving this issue occurred in a single week is particularly notable. Both involve defendants allegedly acting on their own perceived sense of duty – perceptions which ran afoul of the law.
First, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a former senior advisor at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiring to unlawfully disclose SARs related to Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, Maria Butina, Prevezon Alexander, and the Russian Embassy to a reporter. Second, John C. Fry, a former employee of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), was sentenced to five years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine after similarly pleading guilty to his role in disclosing SARs to embattled attorney Michael Avenatti that related to likewise-embattled attorney Michael Cohen. Both prosecutions underscore the seriousness with which federal authorities view such disclosures. Likewise, they reflect that potentially subjective good intentions – of course – still don’t excuse violations of the carefully-crafted prohibitions in the BSA against the disclosure of SARs.
AMA Details Components of a Strong AML/BSA Program for the Gaming Industry
Earlier this month, the American Gaming Association (“AGA”) released an updated Best Practices for Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) Compliance (“Best Practices Guidance”) reflecting a heightened focus on risk assessment as well as Know Your Customer/Customer Due Diligence measures for the gaming industry. This update amends the industry’s first set of comprehensive best practices for AML compliance, issued in 2014. At the time, the best practices were well-received by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”). These updated Best Practices have drawn from recent FinCEN guidance and enforcement actions, the Treasury Department’s National Money Laundering Risk Assessment, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (“OFAC”) updated compliance guidelines and provide detailed guidance regarding how the industry can continue to be “a leader in compliance.”
ABA Tax Fraud Panel to Discuss IRS CI and Crypto Criminals
The Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) has made it clear that it is focusing on the abuse of digital currencies to further tax evasion, money laundering, and other offenses. IRS-CI also has made it clear that this is an international effort, and that it is trying to partner with law enforcement agencies across the globe in order to coordinate and share investigative leads.
This is a hot topic, and we are honored that Ballard Spahr will be moderating a panel on these very same issues, at the ABA’s annual Tax Fraud/Tax Controversy Conference in Las Vegas on December 12, entitled Charging Cryptocurrency Violations—Tax Crimes or Money Laundering. We are pleased to be joined by our wonderful panelists, Evan J. Davis, Betty J. Williams, and Ian M. Comiskey. This is a unique conference, and we invite you to attend if you are interested in the fascinating cross-section of tax evasion and money laundering.
This blog will discuss the recent efforts by IRS-CI to “up its game” in investigating cross-border offenses committed through cryptocurrency, such as its participation in the international Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement task force. We then will discuss a recent high-profile case which exemplifies these two goals of fighting crypto-related crime and collaborating with foreign law enforcement officials to do so: the notorious “Welcome to Video” case, which led to a global takedown of a darkweb child pornography website, its administrator, and its customers. The Welcome to Video investigation, led by IRS-CI, also illustrates a key point we will discuss at the ABA conference: that cryptocurrency is only “pseudo-anonymous,” and that its protections can yield to a determined combination of modern digital forensics and old-fashioned investigative techniques.…
Continue Reading IRS CI Highlights International Efforts to Tackle Cryptocurrency Abuse, Money Laundering and Tax Evasion
DOJ Targets Professional Enablers of Alleged Tax and Laundering Schemes
On December 4, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed an elaborate indictment charging three professionals — a lawyer, an asset manager, and an accountant — along with a client in connection with an alleged tax evasion scheme arising out of the international Panama Papers scandal. At the heart of the Panama Papers story is the former Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca, which had been a key offshore legal services provider until April 2016, when it became the center of a massive global controversy because approximately 11.5 million of the firm’s internal legal and financial documents were leaked to the media. These leaked documents – publicized primarily by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (“ICIJ”) – allegedly reveal a global system of undisclosed offshore accounts, money laundering and tax evasion, and how the rich and powerful around the world use shell companies to conceal assets and possible illegal activity.
The indictment and accompanying government press release stress the potentially pernicious role which professionals can play in facilitating criminal money laundering and tax schemes, as well as the role played by foreign shell companies in masking beneficial ownership. However, this indictment ultimately describes a scheme to evade taxes and hide assets. It does not allege that any of the assets were the proceeds of a separate crime, other than the tax scheme itself. Although the indictment charges a single count of conspiracy to launder money, it relies on the “international” money laundering provision, which does not require that the relevant financial transactions involve the proceeds of underlying criminality, so long as the transactions are designed to promote a criminal scheme.
In this post, we will focus solely on two of the many issues presented by the indictment: (i) the indictment “bootstraps” what are basically general tax fraud allegations into wire fraud and money laundering charges (thereby enabling the government to pursue higher statutory maximums, higher potential sentences, and criminal forfeiture, which the government would be unable to obtain through “pure” tax fraud charges), and (ii) the indictment serves as another reminder to defense lawyers of the potential consequences of presenting a client’s purportedly exculpating factual representations to the government during an investigation.…
Continue Reading First U.S. Indictment Relating to Panama Papers Charges Lawyer, Asset Manager, Accountant and Client
Ballard Spahr is very pleased to host on December 17, 2018 at noon in our Philadelphia office a CLE program for the gaming industry and associated counsel to participate in a panel discussion with speakers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the latest industry trends in BSA/AML compliance and examination.
Please join us in…
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.
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.