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California Money Laundering Laws

"Money laundering" describes financial transactions made to further criminal activity or to process funds gained through criminal activity. Money laundering might be used as a way to hide money gained unlawfully. A defendant may face money laundering charges brought under federal laws or California state laws. Those charged with money laundering also may face racketeering/RICO charges if they are involved in organized crime.

Money Laundering Elements

In California, a state prosecutor must present evidence of financial transactions meeting criteria in the Penal Code. California money laundering law lists the types of activities qualifying as transactions, which include bank deposits, withdrawals, fund transfers, wire transfers, payments, and other financial activities. The defendant must have engaged in the transaction through a financial institution such as a bank, credit union, trust company, or other type of institution listed by state law.

The defendant must have performed one transaction or a series of transactions within seven days, with a total value over $5,000. Alternatively, the defendant must have performed one transaction or a series of transactions within thirty days, with a total value over $25,000. Under state law, attempts to conduct business might qualify as money laundering even if the transaction does not go through successfully.

In addition to showing evidence of the financial transactions, the prosecutor must establish the defendant's intent to participate in money laundering. The prosecutor must show that the defendant made the financial transactions with an intent to carry out, promote, or pay for criminal activities. Alternatively, the prosecutor can establish money laundering through evidence that the defendant acted with knowledge regarding the criminal source of the money.

Overview of California Money Laundering Laws

Statutes California Penal Code Sections 186.9-186.10
Defenses Lack of knowledge regarding the source or intended purpose of the money

The punishment for money laundering depends on the number of separate offenses, the value amount of the financial transactions, and the defendant's prior conviction record.

  • In general, a conviction for one offense of money laundering may result in a sentence of imprisonment in county jail or state prison for up to one year.
  • However, California laws set increased terms of imprisonment to correlate with the value amount of the transaction; state law specifies several types of increased terms for transactions valued up to $2,500,000.
  • A conviction may also require a fine up to $250,000 or double the value amount of the financial transactions, whichever is greater.
  • If the defendant has a prior conviction for money laundering, the fine can increase up to $500,000, or to five times the value amount of the financial transactions, whichever is greater.
  • The state may request both a fine and term of imprisonment during the defendant's sentencing.
  • California state laws identify a "separate offense" as each transaction valued over $5,000, each series of transactions within one week totaling over $5,000, or each series of transactions within thirty days totaling over $25,000.
  • A state prosecutor can charge each offense separately, as well as request a penalty and sentence for each.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Get Professional Legal Help With Your Money Laundering Charges

Money laundering is a serious charge, but there are defenses and a number of elements involved that leave defense opportunities in many cases. A competent lawyer can help identify and argue the best defense possible in your case. Don't delay; get in touch with an experienced, California-based, criminal defense attorney today. 

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