The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of a superseding indictment charging Jennifer Shah and another person for conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Shah, described in promotional materials as having an “extravagant personality and sharp tongue,” is a star on the reality television series The
Criminal Enforcement Round Up: October Yields a Trio of High-Profile Money Laundering Charges With International Focus
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.
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Financial Services and the Marijuana Industry: the U.S. House Mulls Regulatory Reform for Financial Institutions and Cannabis-Related Businesses
Federal legislators continue to struggle over the growing disconnect between increasing State legalization of the cannabis industry, and the continued illegality of cannabis under federal law. This struggle represents an increasingly pressing question for financial institutions, given the burgeoning market involving cannabis-related products – including third parties who provide services and equipment to growers and distributors – and its need for safe, traditional banking services. The latest chapter in this struggle was a hearing, entitled “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses,” held by the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions on February 13. The recorded webcast is available here.
We previously have blogged about the unsteady regulatory ground on which financial institutions have been operating with regard to cannabis-related businesses, an industry legalized in many states but still in violation of federal drug laws and thus exposing its financial service providers to potential Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) violations and federal money laundering charges. The terrain grew only more perilous at the beginning of 2018 with then-Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo, and with it the prior limited assurance that the DOJ would not make prosecution of persons working in or with state-licensed cananbis businesses a DOJ priority.
The 2018 midterm elections, however, changed the landscape yet again. This post will discuss last week’s hearing and the growing opportunities and stubborn obstacles which it highlighted.
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Use of Tainted Assets to Pay Attorney Fees: A Primer on the Pitfalls
On August 29, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) a story that other news outlets later have picked up: the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is investigating whether Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman at the center of the alleged embezzlement of $4.5 billion from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (“1MDB”), is paying – via two intermediaries – his U.S.-based lawyers with allegedly tainted funds. The report states that there is no indication at this time that the U.S. attorneys were aware that the funds could have originated from money Mr. Low allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB. Rather, the investigation centers on Low’s potential use of intermediaries to facilitate the payments. The DOJ already has filed civil forfeiture complaints seeking to recover almost $1.7 billion in various high-end assets from Mr. Low and others allegedly bought with the embezzled funds, and it reportedly is investigating Mr. Low individually for potential criminal charges.
In light of this report, and the growing attention paid to the potential money laundering risks faced by third-party professionals and lawyers in particular (on which we have blogged: see here, here, here, here, here, here and here), now is a good time to consider how U.S. money laundering and forfeiture laws may apply to attorneys for their work when they receive potentially tainted fees from clients. As we discuss, the criminal and civil forfeiture laws have a potentially broad reach, even in regards to legal payments.
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8 Charged With Highly Sophisticated $1.2 Billion International Money Laundering Conspiracy
Complaint Describes an Elaborate Money Laundering Cocktail of Venezuelan Oil, Shell Companies, Currency Exchange Rate Manipulation, Undercover Recordings, Offshore Accounts and Miami High-End Real Estate
On July 24, 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida unsealed a criminal complaint (the “Complaint”) charging eight individuals with conspiracy to commit money laundering under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) and 1956(a)(2) and interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering enterprises under 18 U.S.C. § 1952 for their alleged involvement in a sprawling, highly sophisticated $1.2 billion international money laundering conspiracy. Among those charged were four Venezuelan nationals with assorted connections to Venezuelan public officials and the country’s state-owned oil company; a Columbian national and American citizen with ties to American financial firms; a Portuguese national and purported “professional money launderer”; a German national described by the government as a “high-level banker at a large Swiss bank”; and a Uruguayan national with ownership interest in at least one American bank known to the government to facilitate money laundering. The Complaint also identifies nine unnamed co-conspirators and implicates numerous unnamed American and international financial institutions.
The Complaint — the product of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations — sets forth allegations of conduct designed to embezzle $1.2 billion from a Venezuelan oil company and launder that money through fraudulent transactions involving the sale of false securities and high-end real estate and through fraudulent contractual relationships in the United States and Europe. The defendants are described as “sophisticated operators with respect to the international banking system [who] are aware of banks’ general due diligence and anti-money laundering practices, including know-your-customer (KYC) requirements.” The Complaint sets forth an elaborate tale which encompasses a litany of current “hot” topics in money laundering and on which we have blogged, including alleged corruption in the Venezuelan oil industry; moving the proceeds of official corruption through the international financial system; the potential laundering of foreign assets through high-end real estate in the United States, and the misuse of shell companies to hide the true beneficial owners.
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Manafort Indictment Alleges High-End International Money Laundering and Tax Fraud Involving Offshore Accounts
As the world now knows, an indictment against Paul Manafort, Jr., a former campaign chairperson for now-President Donald Trump, and Manafort’s associate, Richard Gates III, was unsealed yesterday. Brought by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates, while working as political consultants and lobbyists, acted as agents of the Government of Ukraine and other foreign entities; failed to properly register and report as such agents; generated tens of millions of dollars from this work; laundered these earnings through various U.S. and foreign entities and bank accounts; and hid these same earnings from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”).
This post will discuss some legal aspects of the specific charges. This post will not delve into any potential political ramifications of the indictment, or speculate as to what the indictment may or may not supposedly reveal regarding the work of the Special Counsel in general. Standing alone, the indictment is a fascinating document for those interested in money laundering and international tax evasion issues, and highlights the potentially powerful overlap of money laundering charges, tax fraud charges, and alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).
In particular, we will discuss:
- The charges involving the “international” prong of the money laundering statute, a rarely used charge;
- The charges under the BSA alleging failures to file Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Account, or FBARs – a charge which has become a staple in the government’s decade-long enforcement campaign against international tax evasion and undisclosed foreign accounts held by all sorts of U.S. taxpayers; and
- How the indictment’s allegations conform with the recent regulatory emphasis on the alleged use of high-end real estate in the U.S. to launder illicit funds earned abroad.
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“Sting” Money Laundering Scheme and Cooperating Client Ensnares Attorney
The District Court for the Eastern District of New York has denied motions for acquittal and new trial by a Florida attorney convicted at trial of assisting in an undercover money laundering “sting” operation.
Although the sting operation was orchestrated by an undercover FBI agent, it was modeled on a similar, uncharged and actual scheme to launder the proceeds of fake stock certificates in which the attorney allegedly had participated previously, and which had been run by the defendant’s former client – who introduced the attorney to the undercover FBI agent. As is typical for money laundering prosecutions of third-party professionals, the key issue was knowledge.
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Forfeiture Case Based on Alleged Elaborate $230 Million Russian Laundering and Fraud Scheme to Settle
Proposed Settlement Comes After Court Issues Rulings on Extraterritorial Application of U.S. Criminal Law, Evidence of Intent to Conceal and Tracing of Money Laundering Proceeds
On the eve of trial this past Friday, the government announced an agreement to settle, subject to court approval, a major civil forfeiture action in the Southern District of New York. In the case, United States v. Prevezon Holdings, Ltd. et al., the government alleged an elaborate scheme involving money laundering and other offenses committed in Russia, Cyprus, and Manhattan. The case gained some notoriety in the press due to lurid allegations of the suspicious death while in pretrial detention in Moscow of a Russian lawyer who had uncovered the tax refund fraud scheme, and the alleged defenestration earlier this year of a lawyer working for the decedent’s family. Although the civil forfeiture complaint filed in 2013 sought to forfeit at least $230 million worth of assets, the parties settled for approximately $5.9 million. In the wake of this settlement, both the defense and the government now appear to be claiming victory.
This post will analyze an opinion issued by the court in this case last week, prior to the settlement, denying summary judgment to the defense. The legal rulings contained therein are perhaps not as suitable for a Hollywood-style thriller as some of the content of the government’s press releases and pleadings, but nonetheless represent important issues in the field of money laundering and forfeiture. Primarily, we analyze an increasingly common and key question: when can U.S. law apply to conduct occurring primarily overseas? This question has broad implications for federal criminal law enforcement in general, including for RICO and tax fraud prosecutions, as well as for potential civil lawsuits brought by shareholders or other plaintiffs.
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2016 Year End Review: Part Two
In part two of our review of the 2016 developments in Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Bank Secrecy Act, (BSA), the criminal money laundering statutes, forfeiture, and related issues, we discuss four additional key topics:
- Federal banking regulators’ efforts to ease industry concerns about overly aggressive Anti-Money Laundering (AML)/Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) enforcement and limit the
2016 Year End Review: Money Laundering Opinions of Note
The federal courts continued in 2016 to produce a stream of cases pertaining to money laundering. We focus on three below because they involve analysis of basic issues that frequently arise in money laundering litigation.
The first case tests the money laundering statute’s reach in prosecution of an alleged international fraud perpetrated primarily outside of the United States—an increasingly common fact pattern as cross-border cases proliferate and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutes more conduct occurring largely overseas. The other two cases involve defense victories that focus on critical issues of mental state: the question of specific intent under the BSA, and the question, under the money laundering statutes, of knowledge by a third party that a transaction involved proceeds of another person’s crime. The issue of third-party knowledge is often crucial in prosecutions of professionals.
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