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Defense Against Accusations of Money Laundering

A 70-year-old Florida pastor who had been convicted of grand theft and money laundering in 2013 was recently handed a harsher sentence, after prosecutors appealed his original sentence of 90 days in jail, 90 days of weekend work release, two years of house arrest, and 18 years of probation as being too lenient. The pastor was convicted for grand theft of over $100,000, scheming to defraud, and three counts of money laundering, after using money from his church’s benevolence fund, an account that was under his control but intended for needy community members, for his personal expenses. The pastor manipulated the church’s mortgage account in order to cover his tracks in pilfering money from the benevolence fund, which resulted in the money laundering charges.

The Florida Money Laundering Act

Generally, money laundering laws are intended to punish individuals or organizations who hide the proceeds of unlawful activities through questionable financial transactions, often involving otherwise legitimate accounts. In order to trigger money laundering charges, the underlying crime must be relatively serious; in fact, it must be classified as a felony under state or federal statutes. Florida’s Money Laundering Act closely mirrors federal law, and splits the crime of laundering into two categories: transaction and transportation.

A wide variety of transactions can be considered laundering, including gifts, loans, sales, purchases, investments, exchanges of currency, and wire transfers. Property transactions involving real estate, vehicles, or other items can also be considered laundering, if they served the purpose of hiding unlawfully-obtained funds.

Penalties for money laundering depend on the alleged amount in question:

  • For transactions between $300 and $20,000 within a one-year period, third degree felony charges can be brought;
  • For transactions between $20,000 and $100,000 within a one-year period, second-degree felony charges can be brought; and
  • For transactions exceeding $100,000 within a one-year period, first degree felony charges can be brought.

Long prison sentences and large fines are tied to these charges Third degree felonies can have five-year prison sentences, second degree felonies can carry sentences of up to 15 years, and first degree felonies can be punished by up to 30 years. Fines can be levied of up to $250,000 or twice the amount of the laundering transactions, whichever is greater. Prior convictions for money laundering can increase the fine to $500,000 or five times the amount laundered.

Defenses to Money Laundering Charges

In order to convict someone of money laundering, prosecutors must show that they were aware of the unlawful source of the money, and that they understood that the transaction that they took part in was intended to protect these proceeds of criminal activity from being detected. As a result, lack of knowledge of the source of certain funds or the purpose of a particular transaction can serve as viable defenses to charges of money laundering. In addition, entrapment by law enforcement officers can be grounds for dismissing charges, under certain circumstances. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to help you articulate an aggressive defense, if you are facing allegations of money laundering. Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. has decades of experience representing defendants accused of money laundering and other white collar crimes. To preserve your reputation and your liberty, contact our South Florida office today for a consultation on your money laundering charges.

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