Money laundering can put well-meaning Georgians in hot water

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Co-founders of a charitable organization based in Georgia faced accusations of money laundering last month. A well-meaning family started a non-profit organization that provided low-cost food to needy individuals through a number of churches and civic organizations throughout the nation. Based on federal charges, two of the founders may be sentenced in May to serve up to seven years each in prison.

What is money laundering?

When a person faces charges of money laundering, he or she is facing accusations of hiding money acquired by illegal means. The act of trying to convert illegally obtained funds into legal funds is a federal crime.

In basic terms, according to federal law, when a person knowingly uses illegally obtained funds to perform a legal monetary transaction, he or she may be charged with money laundering - also known a laundering of monetary instruments. There are generally three stages involved with the crime of laundering:

  • Placement - introducing the funds into a legal financial system
  • Layering - concealing the illegal source of the funds through complex financial transactions
  • Integration - creating wealth from the financial transactions

There is no minimum dollar amount to the crime and an individual does not even have to succeed with his or her transaction in order to face charges. Transferring illegally obtained funds outside of the Unites States is also considered a crime.

Possible penalties for money laundering

Penalties for a conviction for laundering monetary instruments are stiff and can include the following for each count:

  • A prison term up to 20 years
  • A fine up to $500,000 or twice the value of the transferred asset, whichever is larger
  • Both a fine and a prison term

Defending against money laundering charges

Money laundering is not, generally, a stand-alone crime and prosecutors use the charge to bolster their criminal claims against individuals. An underlying crime must be proven before the charge of money laundering can stick. Charges of money laundering are frequently brought in conjunction with charges for other crimes such as:

  • Drug possession or trafficking
  • Tax evasion
  • Fraud
  • RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations

If you are facing charges for an underlying crime, you may end up defending yourself from additional charges for laundering money.

The crime of money laundering is very complex and can be confusing for accused individuals. If you have been accused of a crime, seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can protect your rights and help you mount a defense.