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Defending Against Money Laundering Charges

Money laundering is a federal offense that is defined as the unlawful transfer of money that flows from racketeering or some other illegal sources into legitimate channels so that the original illegal source of the money cannot be traced.

The elements of money laundering, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1956, are as follows:

  1. The defendant must conduct or attempt to conduct a financial transaction.
  2. The defendant must know that the property involved in the transaction was derived from the proceeds of illegal activity.
  3. The defendant must have one of the following levels of intent: to promote the carrying on of a specified unlawful activity, to engage in tax evasion or fraud, to conceal or disguise the nature or location of the original transaction, or to design a transaction to avoid the reporting requirements under the federal law.
  4. The property must be derived from a specified unlawful activity identified under federal statutes.


In order to establish that the defendant is guilty of money laundering, the prosecutor must prove the above-listed elements. In addition, the prosecutor must show by direct or circumstantial evidence that the defendant knew that the property involved was derived from an illegal source. The prosecutor is not required to show that the defendant knew of the specific offense from which the proceeds were derived.

The prosecutor must also show that the defendant initiated, concluded or participated in the initiation or conclusion of the financial transaction. A transaction is defined as a loan, sale or pledge, or with respect to a financial institution, a deposit, withdrawal or other transfer or exchange of currency. A financial transaction includes the following elements:

  • Movement of money by any means
  • Use of the monetary instrument
  • Transfer of title to some property
  • Use of a financial institution

The Penalty

If the defendant is convicted of money laundering, he may be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and he may be fined. The fine may be $500,000 or twice the sum involved in the illegal transaction, whichever is the greater amount.

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