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Money Laundering in Travis County

Money Laundering Defense Attorney for Travis County and Federal Cases

Board Certified criminal defense attorney Russ Hunt, Jr. has handled money laundering cases in Travis county and across central Texas for over 20 years.  Money Laundering is a white collar crime that involves "Laundering" dirty money to make it appear to be "Clean" money.  This offense is generally committed by keeping, spending, transferring, or investing money that a person knows came from criminal activity. A wide range of financial activities can be used to launder money, and people can often get in trouble for money laundering when they attempt to pass money that came from the criminal activity of others through their own accounts or business activities. “Washing” the money in this way is intended to conceal its source in such a way that an illegal enterprise would appear to be legitimate.  

Prosecutors in Travis county handle cases not just in Austin and the surrounding areas, but because Austin is the state capital they sometimes have statewide jurisdiction over unexpected matters.  Many regulatory violations, including banking violations, securities violations and tax violations are prosecuted out of the white collar division of the Travis county DA's office.  It is often the case that when investigators believe that they have uncovered illegally diverted funds that were hidden, a money laundering allegation can be attached to a white collar matter.

Russ has handled a number of serious money laundering cases including cases involving unlawful money transfers, international money laundering and even "Nigerian fraud" cases.  The activity involved in money laundering oftentimes involves relatively convoluted financial transactions because of it's purpose which is to conceal the true source of the funds.  Sometimes the complex laws regarding money transfers can lead an innocent individual intending to transfer legitimate, non-criminal funds, to unwittingly engage in activity which has been defined as "money laundering." 

Prosecutors generally are not interested in prosecuting people who have made innocent mistakes in transferring funds; however, it can be very difficult to convince a prosecutor that exonerative evidence sourced from various foreign sources is legitimate.

Money is considered to be acquired through criminal activity if it was obtained through a felony offense or an offense punishable by jail time for more than a year.  "Criminal Activity" in Texas is defined very specifically in Texas Penal Code Sec. 34.01(1) as follows:

(1) “Criminal activity” means any offense, including any preparatory offense, that is:

(A) classified as a felony under the laws of this state or the United States; or

(B) punishable by confinement for more than one year under the laws of another state.

Under Texas law, you do not need to know the specifics of the criminal activity, just that the money came from some sort of illegal activity.  Note also that Texas state law incorporates federal law in that if the funds were related to a federal felony offense, even if there is no corresponding state offense, handling those funds can lead to a Texas state money laundering charge.

Money Laundering charges sometimes arise out of surveillance and investigation of a suspect's financial transactions.  Banks also have strict guidelines that require them to file reports with the government called "Suspicious Activity Reports" if they detect certain banking activities. These "SAR"s can lead to investigation, seizure of funds and prosecution for money laundering.  The most common type of money laundering charge is probably cases that arise out of traffic stops or other unrelated activities.

Merely possessing large quantities of cash along with controlled substances can lead to money seizure and money laundering charges.  Almost always, a civil asset forfeiture case will be filed in tandem with a money laundering charge. This is a civil lawsuit that the government's lawyers will file to take what they believe to be "dirty" money if they believe it has a connection to a criminal activity.  Civil asset forfeitures are a very powerful tool that can be easily abused by the government's lawyers, because there is no presumption of innocence in civil court, and an individual may well have a burden to explain the possession of large quantities of cash.

What does the law in Texas say is Money Laundering?

Section 34.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code describes the Money Laundering offense as follows:

A person commits an offense if the person knowingly:

(1) acquires or maintains an interest in, conceals, possesses, transfers, or transports the proceeds of criminal activity;

(2) conducts, supervises, or facilitates a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity;

(3) invests, expends, or receives, or offers to invest, expend, or receive, the proceeds of criminal activity or funds that the person believes are the proceeds of criminal activity; or

(4) finances or invests or intends to finance or invest funds that the person believes are intended to further the commission of criminal activity.

An essential element of the statute is that you committed any of the listed activities knowingly. You need to have known that the money came from a criminal activity. The state's lawyers must prove your knowledge of criminal activity, but they don't have to prove you knew the specific criminal activity.

What are the punishments for Money Laundering?

Under Texas law, the punishment for Money Laundering is a felony, but as with theft offenses, the severity of the punishment depends on the amount of money laundered. If the amount of money involved is between $2,500 and $30,000, it is a state jail felony. If the value of laundered funds is between $30,000 and $150,000, it's a third degree felony. If the value is $150,000 to $300,000 it's a second degree felony, and $300,000 or more is a first degree felony.

A charge for Money Laundering does not bar the State from pursuing another, related charge at the same time. Charges that often are associated with money laundering counts include Securities Fraud, tax evasion, drug distribution and Engaging in Organized Crime.

As noted above, the federal government can also charge a person with money laundering.  The maximum punishment under the federal Money Laundering statutes is 20 years in prison and either a $500,000 fine or a fine worth double the amount of money that was laundered, whichever is greater.  The federal authorities can also charge a person with multiple counts of money laundering to potentially achieve a higher total sentence than 20 years if multiple instances of money laundering occurred.

What are some defenses to Money Laundering?

Sections 34.02(c)-(d) of the Texas Penal Code list statutory defenses to a charge of Money Laundering. One defense to Money Laundering is if a person was using "dirty money" intending to help lawfully recover other dirty funds, for example by working with the police.

Another defense is available when you funds have been transferred to hire an attorney as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and lawyers have a defense from money laundering charges when they were paid legal fees from money obtained through criminal activity if the lawyer did not know that the money came from illegal activity.

Knowledge of the criminal nature of the funds purportedly laundered is a vital element of Money Laundering offenses.  If a person didn't know the money was associated with any criminal activity, then he did not knowingly launder money and is not guilty of money laundering. However, under Texas Penal Code Section 34.02(b), a person is presumed to know that the money comes from criminal activity if a peace officer tells them the money is dirty, whether or not they knew at the time that that person was a peace officer. 

Money laundering charges can be very complex and difficult to defend.  Russ has defended individuals charged with various types of money laundering charges and has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars for his clients that the government was trying to sieze.  It is imperative that you hire an attorney like Russ with the experience, judgment and skill to maximize your chance of recovery of your funds, and to develop the most powerful and strategically effective defense to the charges against you.

Skilled and seasoned Georgetown, Tx criminal defense attorney Russ Hunt, Jr. provides a strong, vigorous defense to Money Laundering cases in Travis county, reinforced with experience, understanding and integrity.

Russ Hunt, Jr. is known for creative, intelligent representation.
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Criminal charges bring some of the toughest stress you'll ever deal with. In difficult times--and especially against the tough state and federal prosecutors in Williamson and Travis counties--you'll need an aggressive and determined advocate by your side. An accessible and dedicated ally, Russ tirelessly fights for your best possible outcome.