Money Laundering Crimes in Florida
Remember that scene in the movie Office Space when three co-workers accidentally steal more than $300,000 from their company?
Michael: “Uh, launder. To clean– No. Wash– Here it is… To conceal the source of money as by channeling it through an intermediary. To conceal a source of money–“
Samir: “That– That doesn’t really help us, Michael.”
Peter: “I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up ‘money laundering’ in a dictionary.”
So what happens when an unlawful activity becomes so profitable that the criminal needs a way to clean or launder the money so that it can be spent?
Under Florida law, a conviction for money laundering requires proof that the defendant was transporting money or conducting transactions with the intent to conduct some other illegal activity.
A conviction requires proof that the defendant actually knew that the property involved in a financial transaction represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity.
The state and federal government is looking for more civil asset forfeiture cases. Seizures are way up and the government is claiming it is because the shuttering of nonessential businesses during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) has made a “tremendous impact” on the money laundering systems.
Some cybercrimes involve the use of bitcoins in an attempt to bypass the traditional banking system through the use of this cyber-currency. Florida law now includes “virtual currency” as a type of “monetary instruments” for the purpose of Florida’s Money Laundering Act.
Most virtual currency transactions will not qualify for prosecutions under this revised statute because the charge must be supported by evidence of intent and knowledge.
Attorneys for Money Laundering in Tampa, FL
Contact an attorney at Sammis Law Firm if you are accused of laundering money or another type of economic crime in Tampa, Hillsborough County, or any of the surrounding counties throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.
Our attorneys are familiar with the tactics used by local law enforcement officers with the Economic Crimes Unit in Hillsborough County and the surrounding areas when investigating money laundering crimes.
Accusations of laundering money are prosecuted by the local State Attorney in each judicial circuit or by a statewide prosecutor with the office of the Florida Attorney General.
The prohibitions against money laundering apply to all individuals, businesses, and organizations that use financial transactions to hide the proceeds of unlawful activities.
A conviction for money laundering can result in lengthy prison time and significant fines. Additionally, civil penalties can attach to money laundering cases that might allow the victims to obtain money damages in addition to any restitution awarded in the criminal case.
The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent clients accused of economic crimes throughout the state of Florida. For more than ten (10) years, our main office has been located in downtown Tampa, FL. We have a second office located in New Port Richey, FL.
Ways of Prosecuting Money Laundering Crimes in Florida
Under Florida law, prosecutors have several different options when proving an allegation of money laundering.
Whether the defendant is merely transporting money or conducting a complex financial transaction, both subsections of the money laundering statute require an “intent to promote the carrying on of a specified unlawful activity.” This intent must be proven at trial beyond all reasonable doubt.
Florida Statute Section 896.101(1) of the Florida Money Laundering Act prohibits the following types of activities:
- conducting financial transactions that promote racketeering under § 896.101(3)(c), Fla. Stat.;
- transporting monetary instruments or funds to promote racketeering under § 896.101(3)(b), Fla. Stat.; and
- conducting financial transactions involving the proceeds of unlawful activity under § 896.101(3)(a), Fla. Stat.
The most common types of illegal actives in Florida that generate the funds and financial transactions involving laundering money include:
- white collar crimes;
- property crimes such as theft or embezzlement;
- trafficking in drugs and narcotics;
- cyber crimes;
- human trafficking;
- a RICO conspiracy; and
- exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult.
Under § 896.101(2)(a), Fla. Stat., the Florida Legislature required that a conviction requires proof that the property involved in the transaction represented proceeds from some form of activity constituting a felony under federal or state law, regardless of whether such activity is specified as a racketeering activity.
Under Florida Statute § 896.101(2)(g), the phrase “specified unlawful activity” does specifically include any “racketeering activity” as defined in § 895.0211.
Punishments for Money Laundering in Florida
The statutory penalties for money laundering crimes under Florida law depend on several factors including the value of the financial transaction and the number of times the offense was committed. Florida’s Money Laundering Act, found in Section 896.101, provides for the following classifications:
- If the financial transactions total $100,000 or more during any one year period, then the money laundering offense is classified as a first degree under § 896.101(5)(c), Fla. Stat., which is punishable by up to thirty (30) years in Florida State Prison;
- If the financial transactions total $20,000 or more but less than $100,000 in any one year period, then the money laundering offense is classified as a second-degree felony § 896.101(5)(b), which is punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in Florida State Prison; or
- If the financial transactions total more than $300 but less than $20,000 in any one year period, then the money laundering offenses is classified as a third-degree felony under § 896.101(5)(a), which is punishable by up to five (5) years in Florida State Prison.
Under § 896.101(2)(d), Fla. Stat., the term “financial transaction” means a transaction involving the movement of funds by wire or other means or involving one or more monetary instruments. The term “transaction” means a purchase, sale, loan, pledge, gift, transfer, delivery, or other disposition.
Under § 896.101(2)(c), Fla. Stat., money laundering can include certain actions involving a financial institution, including making a deposit, withdrawal, exchange of currency, loan, borrowing money, transfer between accounts, obtaining credit, buying or selling any stock, bond, certificate of deposit, or other monetary instrument, use of a safety deposit box, or any other transfer, payment or delivery by or through a financial institution, by any means.
Under § 896.101(2)(e), Fla. Stat., the term “monetary instruments” means coin or currency of the United States or of any other country. It also includes money orders, travelers’ checks, bank checks, personal checks, investment securities in bearer form, and negotiable instruments in bearer form.
Read more about the seizure of money orders for forfeiture.
Special Provisions for Fines in Money Laundering Cases
In money laundering cases in Florida, special provisions apply for determining the fines that can be imposed. After a plea for laundering money in Florida, under the Florida Money Laundering Act in § 896.101(6), Fla. Stat., the defendant can be ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the value of the financial transactions, whichever is greater.
For a second or subsequent violation of the Florida Money Laundering Act, the fine may be up to $500,000 or four times the value of the financial transactions.
In addition to the penalties that can be imposed by the court after a conviction for laundering money, Florida law also provides for civil penalties. Under the Florida Money Laundering Act at § 896.101(7), Fla. Stat., a civil penalty of $25,000 or the value of the financial transactions involved, whichever is greater.
Money Laundering Cases Involving Bitcoins
Many cybercrimes involve the use of bitcoins in an attempt to bypass the traditional banking system. At the state and federal level, the laws have not caught up with the use of this new cyber-currency.
Under Florida Statute Section 896.101(2)(f), the term “virtual currency” has been added to the definition of “monetary instruments.” The term “virtual currency” has been defined under Florida Statute Section 896.101(2)(j) as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format that is not a coin or currency of the United States or any other country.”
The Florida Department of Banking and Finance administers the Money Laundering Program to deter money laundering through financial institutions operating in Florida including the most common vehicles for money laundering which is money transmitters.
These transmitters can include check cashers, foreign currency exchangers, money order issuers, and wire transmitters.
Admissibility of Confession in Money Laundering Prosecutions
Section 560.125(8) repeals the corpus delicti rule in money laundering type prosecutions. In money laundering cases, the defendant’s confession or admission is admissible without proof of the corpus delicti if the court finds the confession or admission is trustworthy.
The rule for the admissibility of a confession in a money laundering case is true regardless of whether the statement was memorialized or not.
Section 560.125(8) does not explicitly require as a foundation requirement for the admission of the defendant’s confession or admission that the prosecutor is unable to show the existence of each element of the crime.
Instead, Section 560.125(8) provides that the state must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there is sufficient corroborating evidence which tends to establish the statement’s trustworthiness.
Hearsay evidence can be considered at any hearing and the court can consider the defendant’s statements and “all relevant corroborating evidence” in determining its trustworthiness.
The statutory provision does not provide any specific factors for the court to consider in making the determination of whether the defendant’s admissions or confessions are trustworthy.
In cases other than sexual abuse or money laundering prosecutions, the corpus delicti rule is unchanged when a statement of an accused is offered by the prosecution.
Florida Money Laundering Act under 896.101 – Visit the Florida Legislature’s website to find the statutory language in the Money Laundering Statute in Florida Statute Section 896.101. Find the language that prohibits failing to report transactions involving more than $10,000 in currency received in trade or business.
Florida’s Anti-Money Laundering Statutes – Visit the website of the Florida Bar Journal from July/August, 1999, Volume LXXIII, No. 7, to find an article entitled “Florida’s Anti-Money Laundering Statutes.” The article discusses Florida’s Anti-Money Laundering Initiative, Money Transmitter Code, Control of Money Laundering in Financial Institutions Act, the Florida RICO Act, and the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.
Finding Lawyers in Florida for Laundering Money Offenses
The anti-money laundering provisions of F.S. Ch. 896 are very similar to the elements of its federal statutes prohibiting money laundering.
The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL, also represent clients charged with receiving more than $10,000, in U.S. currency or foreign equivalent but not reporting the transaction in a federal currency transaction report, IRS Form 8300, or a similar report under state law within a certain time period in violation of Florida Statute § 896.102.
As provided in the Florida Money Laundering Act found in Section 896.101, the crime of money laundering penalizes individuals or organizations using financial transactions to hide the proceeds of unlawful activities conducted in the state of Florida.
We also represent clients who are accused of structuring the financial transaction so as to avoid the reporting or registration requirements.
Federal and state regulators seek to root out cash transactions involving money laundering schemes. If you have been accused of laundering money or another type of economic crime in the greater Tampa Bay area, then contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm.
Call (813) 250-0500.
This article was last updated on Tuesday, November 17, 2020.