One of the best ways to pursue criminal organizations, white collar crime, and terrorist groups is to follow the money. That's why the FBI is prioritizing investigations of third-party money laundering facilitators. Money laundering is when alleged criminals turn "dirty money" into "clean money" by making it seem like it has derived from legitimate sources. It allows alleged criminals to hide and accumulate ill-gotten wealth, avoid prosecution, evade taxes, and multiply profits through reinvestment. It's also a major crime in large part because it helps to fund more major crimes. However, this doesn't mean the FBI is just going after secretive Swiss banks, corrupt foreign governments and shadowy virtual currencies. Instead, the Bureau has found targets closer to home: attorneys, accountants, investment managers, trust companies, and real estate professionals.
Despite 1,200 money-laundering convictions every year in the U.S., more than $300 billion is still moved around the country in concealed transactions annually. Now, since technology has made money laundering even easier, the FBI has decided to focus on these middlemen who facilitate alleged criminal activity. Through their investigations, professionals in these areas are alleged to have laundered staggering amounts of illicit proceeds every year. This is because of their unique professional knowledge and skills, freedom from having to comply with some laws and regulations, and confidentiality rules.
Examples of professionals facilitating money laundering can be found in recent federal convictions:
- A lawyer in Cleveland was convicted in 2016 for accepting $20,000 from an informant posing as a cocaine dealer. He advised the informant on how to evade law enforcement using tax laws, business entities, and a shady accountant.
- In 2014, an Atlanta-area accountant accepted bags of cash from a restaurant that was a front for cocaine traffickers, and lent the money to his clients who then repaid the restaurant. Sadly, he was unwittingly being used, but was held responsible for not seeing the red flags.
- In 2014, two financial advisers helped undercover agents disguise money they believed to be the product of bank fraud in offshore foundations before repatriating the funds themselves.
- Recent investigative reporting has exposed the vast use of illegal money in the funding of major cash real estate through the use of shell corporations to hide the real owners of the property.
The FBI has also started encouraging victims of fraud to come forward to help initiate investigations in this effort.
If you are a professional working with money that belongs to other people, you may benefit from a review of potential white collar crime associated with your profession. Call the Law Office of John Freeman, PLLC. It may be the most important call you ever make.