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Money laundering is the act of using stolen funds to conduct a transaction through a bank or some other financial institution. If the funds are used to make a purchase or for any other purpose, they are not considered to have been laundered under California law. As with any other crime, there are certain steps that a person must have taken to actually be guilty of this offense.
The Elements of a Money Laundering Transaction
To be considered money laundering, a transaction must have occurred through a bank whether it is conducted at a physical location or online. Examples of transactions include writing a check, making a deposit or withdrawing money. Those who attempt to convert stolen money into a foreign currency could also be guilty of money laundering.
The amount of money involved in these transactions will also determine if money laundering took place. Under California law, a person must complete at least $5,000 worth of transactions over period of seven days to be charged with this crime. Alternatively, a person would need to complete transactions totaling $25,000 over a period of 30 days.
Did You Intend to Help a Criminal Entity?
A person cannot be guilty of money laundering if he or she wasn’t attempting to help a criminal entity when completing a financial transaction. The same is true if a person didn’t know where the money came from or that the transaction was made on behalf of a criminal or criminal enterprise.
For example, an individual loans a friend $10,000 to start a business without knowing what that friend intends to sell or offer to customers. If it turns out that the person who received the funds wants to buy and sell drugs with that money, the person who made the loan wouldn’t be guilty of money laundering.
Money Laundering Is a Wobbler
Money laundering is considered to be either a misdemeanor or a felony under California law. Whether the crime is considered to be relatively minor or among the most serious that you have committed depends on the facts of the case. It may also hinge on your criminal history or whether you have been cooperative since being charged.
If a case is labeled as a misdemeanor, you could spend up to a year in jail as well as pay a fine of up to $1,000. However, the penalties increase to a fine of up to $250,000 if you are convicted on a felony charge. In some cases, the financial penalty could be equal to the amount of money that was laundered. This is in addition to spending up to three years in jail.
Penalties may also be enhanced for those who have been convicted of money laundering in the past. The financial penalty is either $500,000 or up to five times the amount laundered. A maximum prison sentence can also be increased based on how much money was involved.
There Are Many Defenses Available to the Charge
Just because you are charged with a crime doesn’t mean that you are guilty of that offense. It may be possible to assert that you had no intention to help a criminal or a criminal entity when you made a deposit, wrote a check or made a withdrawal. It is also possible to show that you had no intent to take such action when initiating a wire transfer.
Instead, an attorney may argue that an individual was sending the money for legitimate purposes or was somehow coerced into breaking the law. If the amount of a transaction or series of transactions was less than the legal threshold, an attorney may argue that no law was broken.
If you are charged with money laundering or any other crime, it is critical that you seek advice from an attorney. While there is no guarantee that legal counsel can help you escape some or all penalties in a given case, this person could take steps that increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome in the matter.