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Defending Federal Money Laundering Charges: An Overview

Defending Federal Money Laundering Charges: An Overview

Federal money laundering charges are no joke. These charges, which fall under 18 U.S.C. § 1956 of the United States Code, can lead to serious penalties if you are convicted. However, with an experienced defense attorney on your side, it may be possible to avoid conviction or at least minimize the consequences. This article provides an overview of federal money laundering laws and potential defenses to build your understanding.

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering involves concealing the source of money obtained through illegal activities to make it appear legitimate. Common predicates (underlying crimes) for money laundering charges include drug trafficking, fraud, extortion, bribery, and more. The goal is to hide “dirty” money derived from criminal conduct so that money can be used without suspicion.

Federal law prohibits conducting financial transactions with money known to come from an illegal source. This includes transactions over $10,000 as well as international movement of funds. Simply spending money is not enough – the government must prove you knowingly conducted transactions to hide criminal origins or helped someone else do so.

Elements of Federal Money Laundering

To convict you of federal money laundering under 18 U.S.C. § 1956, prosecutors must prove these key elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You conducted or attempted to conduct a financial transaction – This includes depositing, withdrawing, transferring, exchanging funds, etc. through banks, businesses, wire transfers, and other means.
  • You knew the money came from illegal activity – The government must show you either knew specifically or deliberately avoided knowing the funds were connected to a predicate crime.
  • The transaction exceeded $10,000 – Any transaction under $10,000 may qualify as “structuring,” an related charge.
  • You intended to promote criminal activity or conceal the money – This means hiding illegal origins, reinvesting to fund more crime, etc.

Without evidence to conclusively prove each element, federal money laundering charges cannot stick.

Penalties and Sentencing

Like most federal charges, money laundering convictions carry potentially severe penalties depending on circumstances. This may include:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Fines up to $500,000 or twice the value of funds involved
  • Asset forfeiture so government can seize property
  • Restitution to pay back victims
  • Supervised release after prison

Sentencing varies based on:

  • Dollar value of transactions
  • Your role and awareness of money origins
  • Use of sophisticated schemes
  • Past criminal history

That is why choosing the right defense attorney is crucial to mitigate penalties. An experienced lawyer understands federal sentencing guidelines.

Defenses Against Money Laundering Charges

Several legal defenses may defeat federal money laundering charges or help reduce penalties, such as:

Lack of Knowledge

If prosecutors cannot conclusively prove you knew the funds came from illegal activity, this can defeat charges entirely. You may genuinely not have known or turned a “blind eye.” An attorney can argue there is too much doubt.

No Intent to Conceal

Similarly, if transactions did not aim to hide criminal origins of money or help illicit activity, the intent element fails. There may be legitimate reasons like paying bills or donations.


If someone forced or coerced you into conducting transactions under threat, this can constitute duress. An attorney can argue you had no criminal intent.

Constitutional Violations

If evidence stems from illegal searches, forced confessions, or other constitutional breaches, an experienced lawyer may suppress evidence or dismiss charges.


If federal agents improperly induced you into committing money laundering through entrapment, this is not a valid conviction. A skilled attorney will highlight impropriety.

Getting Legal Help

Facing federal money laundering charges is frightening, but legal defenses can fight the case. The most critical step is retaining an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights. An attorney with money laundering experience can deeply analyze evidence, identify defenses, negotiate with prosecutors, and form an aggressive trial strategy. This can help dismiss charges, achieve acquittal, or mitigate penalties. Don’t wait to seek legal help if accused of federal money laundering. Consultations with defense lawyers are confidential. There are payment plans available. With an attorney guiding you, the legal system becomes less intimidating. Fight back and let justice prevail.

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