Money laundering involves taking unlawfully obtained money and transforming it into what looks like legitimate money or assets. The dirty money is cleaned because it could raise suspicion of financial institutions. Money laundering is a severe offense that can be prosecuted at both state and federal levels. Its consequences can be devastating to your career, finances, and reputation. As a result, you require a skilled defense attorney to guide you throughout the criminal process and represent you in court. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney represents many high-profile cases in Los Angeles and can defend your rights.

Understanding the History of Money Laundering Law

You could be wondering whether it is not enough to charge a defendant for violating the law that the illegal money originated from. Why is it a separate offense to deposit money obtained from the offense in a financial institution?

The answer goes back to 1986 when the California legislature passed a law to hold on money acquired from the sale and transportation of controlled substances.

In most cases, high-profitable criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking. While the organizations' staff handled sales and transportation, the bosses kept the business profits. Making money laundering an offense provided the prosecutors a method to reach the bosses.

However, the law today results in the arrest of many individuals other than the bosses. You can be arrested if you're financially involved with the person who makes money from illegal conduct, regardless of whether you engaged in unlawful conduct.

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering refers to the process of cleaning criminally acquired money from their illegitimate sources. The process permits the money to be used lawfully.

The process involves three steps, namely:

  • This involves converting unlawfully acquired money into a property that looks legal. It could also include depositing the money into a bank account of a different entity. The entity serves as a middleman between legitimate spending and the illegitimate funds.
  • Layering, which entails using a series of transactions as a way of hiding the money's illegal source. It can involve several transfers across several accounts or buying a property.
  • This permits the funds to re-enter the economy. It also benefits the owner who can channel the funds into a legal business and develop counterfeit invoices to further conceal the source of their money.

According to Penal Code Section 186.10. money laundering is:

  • Performing or trying to perform a transaction via a bank, including writing checks, withdrawing or depositing money
  • Where a series of bank transactions or transaction encompasses of money worth more than $5,000 in seven days or above $25,000 in thirty days
  • With either
  1. Intention to promote a crime
  2. Awareness that the funds involved in the transactions stemmed from a crime

Defining Key Legal Terms

Defining the many legal terms and phrases concerning money laundering law can assist in gaining a better understanding.

  • Financial institution is any banking or national bank institution doing business or situated in California
  • Criminal activity is any criminal conduct that attracts incarceration or death
  • Transaction is the transfer, withdrawal, deposit or bailment, payment, pledge, loan or exchange of currency, or electronic wire, or manual transfer of money between different accounts, or monetary instrument through/to/by financial institutions.
  • Monetary instrument is U.S. money or money of any other different entity

The definition of the term "financial transaction'' goes beyond business or bank involvement. Merely passing funds from one individual to the other as long as it is performed with an intent to disguise the ownership, control, location, or source of the money is regarded as a financial transaction.

Health and Safety Code 11370.9

Health and Safety Code Section 11370.9 is another specific law that is linked to money laundering. It entails money obtained from drug offenses.

To be sentenced for money laundering associated with drug offenses, the prosecution should establish the following facts:

  • You acquired, received, or performed transactions involving property or money that you knew was obtained from controlled substance crime like transporting or selling drugs.
  • You committed the transaction with an intent to hide the unlawful source of money.
  • The total money laundered exceeded $25,000 in thirty days.

Below is an example that shows how standard money laundering (PC 186.10) is different from HS 11370.9:

Carol sells Marijuana worth ten thousand dollars in cash. She deposits the entire amount into her bank account. She intends to use the proceeds to cover her bills for three months.

Carol cannot be found guilty of HS 11370.9 because:

  • She didn't deposit the funds with an intent to conceal that the money originated from selling illegal drugs
  • The amount did not exceed twenty-five thousand dollars

Nevertheless, she could be charged with PC 186.10 because:

  • She deposited money worth above five thousand dollars in the bank
  • She was aware that the money came from a crime

Penalties and Consequences

All types of the crime in question are California wobblers. That means the prosecutor can charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor. This depends on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history.

If charged with a misdemeanor, you risk facing the following penalties:

  • A year in jail
  • A maximum of one thousand dollars in fines

A Penal Code Section 186.10 PC felony, on the other hand, is punishable by:

  • A sixteen-month, two-year, or three year-jail sentence under realignment program
  • Twice the total money laundered or $250,000 in fines (whichever is higher)

It is worth noting that the fine imposed enhances if this isn't your first PC 186.10 conviction. Additionally, the prison sentence is enhanced in case the amount laundered is above fifty thousand dollars.

The California felony consequences for HS 11370.9 include the following:

  • Twice the total money laundered or $250,000 in fines (whichever is higher)
  • Two, three, or four years in California state prison

How to Fight a Money Laundering Charge

Due to the severe consequences attracted by money laundering, it is essential to hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer. The attorney can use the following legal defenses, which might get you an innocent verdict:

Lack of Knowledge or Lack of Intent

To be found guilty of the violation of PC 186.10, you ought to have either planned to support or promote criminal conduct or were aware you were dealing with money whose origin is a crime.

Likewise, to be sentenced under HS 11370.9, you must have planned to conceal the owner or source of the controlled substances proceeds.

That means if the prosecution cannot establish the intent or knowledge of these things, you cannot be sentenced.

Inadequate Money from Unlawful Conduct

As previously mentioned, you cannot be sentenced for the crime in question unless the transaction involves money more than specific amounts.

Moreover, the prosecution should prove that that amount of money laundered came from unlawful sources.

Police Misconduct

Law enforcement agencies use undercover methods to make PC 186.10 arrests. From time to time, these operations result in instances of police misconduct, such as a search made without probable cause or search warrant.

If it happens, an experienced attorney should be in a position to bring a motion to suppress proof that was acquired through an unlawful search.


Money laundering varies in both complexity and sophistication. Usually, the government assigns its investigation to a forensic account to trace proceeds to an unlawful source. Forensic accounting isn't black and white and is a bone of contention between forensic experts in a courtroom.


The idea of blackmailing an innocent individual into violating the law might look like something out of movies. However, it happens more often than you think. If you only participated in a money-laundering scheme because you thought your life was endangered, you have a valid legal defense against the charge.

Federal Money Laundering Law

Money laundering is both a Golden State and a federal offense. According to federal law, it is an offense to conduct either following kinds of money laundering:

  1. Knowingly performing a transaction with money obtained from unlawful conduct to hide the money's source or promote a crime. If found guilty, you could:
  • Serve a twenty-year time in a federal prison
  • Pay twice the total money laundered or $500,000 in fines (whichever is higher)
  1. Knowingly transacting or trying to transact an amount that exceeds ten thousand dollars with money that originated from criminal conduct. It is a less severe offense that carries a ten-year federal prison sentence and a fine.

What You Should Do When You Are Under Money Laundering Investigation

If you believe you're under investigations for money laundering or you are involved in the investigations, there are specific things you should do. The steps will protect your rights and prevent you from making mistakes that could affect you later. These steps include:

Cease all Questionable Activities

The moment you suspect you could be under investigation, you should cease all questionable activities. Typically, federal investigations proceed months before the investigation targets receive the investigation notices. Therefore, you ought to assume that you're under surveillance, your location is monitored, phone lines bugged, and the investigators have access to your bank records.

Even when the investigators already have proof, failing to provide them with more incriminating information will only help the case.

Don't Interfere with or Destroy the Evidence

Destroying or deleting communications or documents that look incriminating could be tempting upon discovering that you're under investigation. However, it is not a wise idea.

Destroying evidence is well thought-out to be obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1519. It is a severe offense, and should federal prosecutors think that you intentionally deleted or destroyed information, you could face a maximum five-year sentence alongside money laundering penalties.

Additionally, attempts to destroy electronic proof are often unsuccessful. Therefore, do not delete any electronic file or record of communication. Don't disable any auto-delete program on your email account, cell phone, or computer.

Don't Talk about Your Case

After discovering you are under investigation, minimize communicating about the money laundering case with any person apart from your defense attorney. If you are under surveillance, the government can be privy to the communications.

On top of that, a prosecutor can subpoena your communication records, including text messages, emails, facsimiles, and phone records. Your electronic communications, such as social media records, can also be disclosed to a prosecutor and used against you.

Also, any person you tell your case's details can be subpoenaed to testify the information in a court of law. Even telling your family, friends, and colleagues about the case could lead to evidence being used against you.

Remain Silent

It isn't uncommon for a suspect to think they can deal with the situation alone because they did not break the law. Often, this misconception causes suspects to agree to speak with federal agents.

The federal agents know how to prompt incriminating statements while assuring the suspect that they are just asking innocent questions. Many suspects have little knowledge in the judicial system and will cooperate as a way of staying out of trouble. Despite the courteous manner of the federal agents, they do not have your best interests at heart.

You should understand that the federal agents are permitted to tell you anything so that you can volunteer information before realizing you should engage an attorney.

Typically, any person under investigation is defensive and doesn't make statements that expose involvement in the crime. They also minimize the engagement in issues under investigation.

In such situations, the defensive posture could get the suspect in trouble. It is because, according to federal law, misrepresenting or withholding information to federal agents is an offense. That means keeping your mouth shut, and remaining silent is essential to your case outcome.

Why You Should Engage a Criminal Defense Attorney

If a suspect is under investigation, the odds are they will be apprehended and indicted. An experienced defense attorney early intervention can be instrumental in their case's outcome. It is because the attorney will:

Protect Your Rights

When a defendant is under investigation, they still have constitutional rights. With the help of an attorney,  a defendant will know the legal rights and how they apply to their case. For instance, the attorney will illuminate you about the Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and what you should do if federal agents come to your workplace or home.

Develop a Defense Strategy for You

You should be honest with the attorney. That way, they will be able to come up with a robust legal defense strategy. Any seasonal defense attorney will conduct independent investigations. Therefore, they should know all the case details so that they can decide the necessary actions. All statements and information you share with the attorney are confidential.

Engage Experts Witnesses

Moreover, your attorney will engage an expert witness depending on the other offense related to the money laundering. When it comes to transactional information that a case could include, an expert who understands the figures and interaction between the assets and computer may be essential. With the government directive to include most financial transactions, an individual can launder money in almost all manner. Nevertheless, it is the professional who learns how the money was cleansed and its origin.

With the help of the expert witness, the defense can disassociate you from the crime and implicate the perpetrator. You may have little or no direct involvement with the offense but may be aware that it took place. In that case, it is possible to negotiate for a plea bargain or lesser charge.

Identify Missing Gaps in the Prosecutor's Case

Your skilled defense attorney should be able to identify inaccuracies, loopholes, or anything that does not add up in the prosecution's evidence. That means if a person has fabricated details or interfered with the proof, you are protected.

Assist with Paperwork

Most defendants are surprised to discover that there are no administrative assistants who help with legal documents. The process is confusing and complicated and can result in frustration.

Your lawyer is experienced in dealing with court documents and is acquainted with general procedures. They also know when and how to submit the necessary paperwork.

Protects Your Future

With so much at stake, is it not worth hiring an attorney? Your future is your investment. A money laundering charge can negatively affect your career, future, finances, and life.

Help from an attorney could be the determining factor between a conviction or a dismissed case. As previously mentioned, there are numerous details within the judicial system that only an experienced individual would be aware of. Additionally, your criminal defense attorney can help in expunging your record.

Find Legal Representation Near Me

Money laundering is a crime that law enforcement officers target as a method to break organized crime groups and drug rings. If charged, you should seek legal representation immediately since your reputation, livelihood, and job can be negatively affected. You can overcome this overwhelming time with an experienced attorney from Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by your side. We can analyze all your financial records and interview witnesses to ensure you don't pay the cost of another person's offense. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to book your initial case evaluation.