By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Money laundering is the safekeeping of illegal proceeds. People tend to think of it as actually trying to cleanse money by having an elaborate scheme of putting up a fake business front so law enforcement can’t trace illegal proceeds – but in reality it’s much simpler (at least under Texas State Law).
My experience is that rarely is money laundering a stand alone charge. It is typically either brought along with other – often more serious charges – or it is a charge brought against someone when other charges may be more difficult to prove.
Money Laundering: Texas vs. Federal Law
Money laundering can be charged in either state or federal court. State court uses a value ladder to determine the punishment range and the federal sentencing guidelines are also contingent on the amount alleged to be “laundered.”
Examples of Money Laundering
Let’s say the person is accused of having a business where they advertise widgets on the internet. People pay online for the widgets, but after they pay – the person just pockets the money and never sends out a widget in return. It’s obviously theft and/or fraud. Also the person is committing money laundering by putting the money in his bank account. You would think the prosecutors would only charge defendant for theft here, and they might. They also have the option of money laundering too. Maybe they throw it in for plea bargaining leverage.
Someone is involved in a retail theft ring. They steal from retail stores and re-sell the items. They take the money they get from the reselling and put it into their bank account. It’s money laundering even though there are additional steps.
Conspiracies and Party Liability with Money Laundering
Where money laundering can get somewhat gray is in the case of multi-person conspiracies. The way a conspiracy works under the law – a person doesn’t have to have full knowledge of the entire scheme to be guilty of taking part of the conspiracy.
Tweaking the facts of example #2, let’s say the bank account the money ultimately goes in to is a joint account between spouses – with the other spouse not involved in the ring at all. This would be an instance where the state or federal government could either charge or threaten that spouse with money laundering – typically in an attempt to get them to spill their guts and cooperate about what they know of the entire illegal operation.
The issue may turn on whether the spouse was willfully ignorant of the scheme or not. Did they realize the account seemed inflated often for no reason? Did they check the bank account on a regular basis? Did the other spouse conceal, hide and do everything possible to control the account?
In any regard – money laundering normally involves a complex factual scenario either in state or federal court.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.