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We're usually used to seeing proper names when reading the names of the parties in a case. You know, cases like "Roe v Wade," "Bush v. Gore". But here's a money laundering case out of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals with such a delightful name that it merited a blog post. Today, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on a case titled United States v. $79,650.00 Seized From Bank.
When the defendant is a sum of cash, it's worth a mention. So what's this case about and why is the defendant in this case "$79,650.00 Seized From Bank"?
The case involves a currency structuring dispute. In the case where "currency structuring" occurs, the feds can swoop in and seize cash.
What is currency structuring, you ask? Don't be shy to ask, if you have a strictly civil practice, you may not be up on the laws surrounding money laundering. Currency structuring can be simplified as such: The bank requires a form if you would like to deposit $10,000 or more in one deposit. This form allows the bank to notify the federal authorities of all transactions in excess of $10,000.
Now, some people just don't want to fill out the form. So, they stretch their deposits around in such a manner as to avoid depositing $10,000 in one shot. This can be called "currency structuring." It's considered illegal.
In a criminal trial, there are two elements of this crime. The first one is that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the bank had a duty to report the currency. The second element is that the defendant knew it was unlawful to structure his currency to avoid causing the report to be filed (see United States v. Simon cited in the Related Resources section below).
In the case before the Fourth Circuit, the party of interest was an Ethiopian citizen, Girma Afework, who allegedly engaged in such a "structuring" to avoid the $10,000 reporting requirement. While the issue of liability was addressed at the lower court level, Afework raised an 8th Amendment argument and the district court in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a post-judgment order on January 15, 2010, reducing the amount of the seized funds to $50,000. The prosecution appealed this post-judgment order and the claimant-party in interest (i.e.Girma Afework. the person whose funds were seized) cross-appealed on the issue of his culpability.
Of course, for Afework to stand a chance, he would have to show that one of the two requisite elements was lacking. If, for any reason, he didn't know that currency structuring was a crime, he could potentially be off the hook. But money laundering laws are tight and the prosecution would likely not make the battle too easy for Afework.
For more information on this case and other currency structuring cases, browse through the Related Resources below.