Criminal Defenses to Money Laundering in Kansas

Legal advice for federal white-collar crime

Money laundering is a term that everyone has heard. But many people—even those charged with it as a crime—may not understand exactly what it means. Federal law defines money laundering as engaging or attempting any financial transaction designed to help carry out one more specifically listed unlawful activities, or to conceal the proceeds of such unlawful activities.

“People do not seem to grasp that the government does not want you to assist people in hiding cash from crime,” says Dan Monnat, a white-collar crimes attorney at Monnat & Spurrier in Wichita, Kansas. “In short, you cannot knowingly help criminals conduct financial transactions with money made from fraud, illegal drug or gambling activities—or, most other crimes where the financial transaction conducted is to evade taxes or promote the illegal activity or to hide the location or ownership of the proceeds.”

Money Laundering and Specific Intent

Money laundering is not something a person can commit by accident. It is a specific intent crime. This means federal prosecutors must prove—beyond a reasonable doubt—that you formed the intent to launder the proceeds of criminal activity at the time you allegedly acted. In other words, if you moved money around, but you had no idea it was the proceeds of a criminal activity, then you did not form the specific intent to commit money laundering.

However, says Monnat: “People don’t understand that, in law, willful blindness may be the equivalent of knowledge or intent. For example, the drug dealer’s beautician girlfriend is asked to put the large sums of cash the drug dealer gives her in the bank account for her beauty parlor and claim it as income from the beauty parlor. That’s money laundering. … Say guy sleeps all day and doesn’t appear to have any reasonable means of support. When he is awake, she sees him sniffing white powder all the time, people are dropping over at the house at all times of night and leaving money with him. He may never say, ‘Hey, I’m dealing drugs.’ But she may have knowledge that those are drug proceeds because of her willful blindness about so much circumstantial evidence of his drug activities.

Also, note that specific intent to commit money laundering is distinct from evidence of any underlying crime. For example, let's say police arrest Josephine and she has $5,000 in cash on her. The police believe this money was stolen from a nearby bank. While the cash may prove Josephine participated in the robbery, that does not prove she committed money laundering, even though she was caught with the stolen money in her possession.

Indeed, there are many cases where federal prosecutors in Kansas will bring money laundering charges against innocent people who had no idea they possessed stolen or criminal funds in the first place. An accountant who manages their client's books, for instance, may not know that client obtained some of their funds through embezzlement. Similarly, a person making a bank deposit from a friend may not know that money was stolen in a robbery.

Lack of Connection to Illegal Activity

Although prosecutors do not need to establish that a money laundering defendant had specific knowledge of the underlying crime, they do need to prove the funds or property involved were obtained illegally. This means the state has the burden of tracing any money to a specified illegal activity. To go back to our earlier example, just because the police found $5,000 with Josephine, that does not by itself prove she obtained that money through any illegal activity.

Duress

Even when a defendant may have known they were committing an act of money laundering, they may not have been acting under their own free will. It is possible to raise duress as a defense–that is to say, the defendant acted because someone threatened to harm them or a member of their family if they did not assist with the money laundering scheme.

These are just a few of the possible defenses that may be available in a given money laundering case. A qualified Kansas white-collar crimes attorney can provide additional guidance.

Adds Monnat: “[Money laundering] be complex, where you’ve got billions of drug-dealer dollars and you’ve put them in safe places, and you’ve got all kinds of shell corporations and international transactions involved. But a lot of simple things that friends, and girlfriends and boyfriends, are asked to do can be money laundering, too. … We see it all the time in drug cases, in embezzlement cases. The people go, ‘Why am I charged with money laundering?’ And the answer is: You put it in a bank under a false name to save it for yourself and conceal the fact that you were committing the crime of embezzlement.”

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