Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)

It is a potential crime to conduct a business that exchanges virtual currency and fail to register with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN“), even if the State in which one operates does not impose a similar licensing requirement. A federal district court in Louisiana has reaffirmed this principle in United States v. Lord, in which the defendants unsuccessfully sought to withdraw their pleas of guilty to offenses based on a failure to register with FinCEN.

Law and Justice

The defendants are father and son. According to the court opinion, in 2013, they began to operate a bitcoin business through a website called localbitcoins.com, which advertised the services of other bitcoin exchangers. The defendants’ clients provided cash, credit card payments and wire transfers to the defendants to purchase bitcoins from a third-party online bitcoin broker on their client’s behalf, in exchange for commissions charged by the defendants. In the Spring of 2014, the third-party bitcoin broker warned the defendants that they were required to register with FinCEN because they were acting as virtual currency exchangers. Although the defendants allegedly misrepresented to the third-party online broker that they already had registered with FinCEN, the defendants did not actually register until November 2014. By that time, however, they already had exchanged more than $2.5 million worth of virtual currency. This registration delay was the basis of the charges relating to the defendants’ virtual currency business. Continue Reading Failure to Register with FINCEN Sustains Guilty Pleas by Virtual Currency Exchangers

This week, we have the opportunity to lead a discussion with real estate industry professionals about AML and CFT trends at the Real Estate Services Providers Council, Inc. (RESPRO®) Annual Conference in Las Vegas. We have written several times in this blog about the real estate industry, including the 2017 extension of the GTOs for title insurance companies, other recent FinCEN activities, and the FATF’s conclusions regarding real estate in their 2016 Mutual Evaluation Report.

We are very pleased that Anne Marie Minogue of Navigant will be joining us on the panel. The real estate industry operates differently in different states and efforts to enhance AML and CFT supervision and enforcement will need to reflect this complexity. RESPRO members include a broad range of industry participants that will be affected by further actions by FinCEN so we are looking forward to the discussion.Beautiful Swimming Pool at an Estate Home

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on April 3 to decide whether Jordan-based Arab Bank may be liable for claims including allegations that its New YorkDetail view of the United States Supreme Court branch processed transactions for known terrorists. While the central issue before the Court will be the scope of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) – namely whether it permits corporate liability for violations of international law – Jesner v. Arab Bank also illustrates how alleged AML/BSA failures can lead to yet another avenue for secondary legal liability for financial institutions, as we previously have noted in other contexts. Depending on the outcome of the Court’s opinion in Jesner, such U.S. exposures may extend to foreign financial institutions even when the alleged conduct occurs primarily abroad. Continue Reading Weighing Corporate Liability under the Alien Tort Statute: What it Means for AML/CFT Controls

 

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Earlier this week, we blogged about how the United States recently declared the Philippines to be a “major money laundering country.”  On the same day of our post, March 7, the European Parliament (EP) issued a Report which describes the United States as a growing haven for tax evasion and money laundering.  Specifically, the Report concludes that the United States “is seen as an emerging leading tax and secrecy haven for rich foreigners. By resisting new global disclosure standards, it provides an array of secrecy and tax-free facilities for non-residents at federal and state levels, notably in Nevada, Delaware, Wyoming, and South Dakota.” Continue Reading European Parliament: The U.S. is a Haven for Tax Cheats and Money Launderers

FinCEN announced today that it is renewing the existing Geographical Targeting Orders (GTOs) issued in July 2016 that require all title insurance companies to identify and report on the natural persons behind shell companies that make cash-only purchases of high-end real estate in six major metropolitan markets. The renewed GTOs will be in effect from February 24, 2017 through August 22, 2017.

The initial real estate GTOs were issued to certain title insurance companies (including their subsidiaries and agents) in January 2016 for purchases in the Borough of Manhattan and Miami-Dade County. The July 2016 orders being renewed today expanded the scope of the GTOs to cover all title insurance companies and to include numerous counties in six major metropolitan areas.

The renewal of the GTOs was anticipated. In today’s new release, FinCEN noted that it “has found that about 30 percent of the transactions covered by the GTOs involve a beneficial owner or purchaser representative that is also the subject of a previous suspicious activity report.”

As highlighted in our 2016 Year in Review, FinCEN has increased its focus on AML risks in real estate. We expect FinCEN to further expand their supervisory and enforcement activity in the real estate market, as recommended by the FATF in their 2016 Mutual Evaluation Report.

The Western Union Company (“Western Union”) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) on January 19th with the Department of Justice, based on alleged willful failures to maintain an effective AML program and the aiding and abetting of wire fraud.  The DPA involved a combined $586 million monetary penalty and also involved related civil enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission and FinCEN.  The agreement has been well-publicized and its details will not be repeated here; very generally, the DPA rests on allegations involving conduct stretching from 2004 through 2012 and an overall failure by Western Union to detect and prevent a kaleidoscope of illicit behavior by customers, from structured transactions to an international consumer fraud scheme to potential drug distribution.  To be sure, this is a significant agreement – but it echoes the same general sort of facts and allegations which have become almost standard in large AML enforcement actions. However, the Western Union action contains at least one interesting wrinkle. Continue Reading The Western Union DPA and the Need to Investigate One’s Own

2016 was a busy year for developments in Anti-Money Laundering (AML), the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), the criminal money laundering statutes, forfeiture, and related issues. In part one of our year-in-review, we discuss six key topics:

  • The Panama Papers and its spotlight on the United States as a potential money laundering haven

You can read more about these topics areas in the blogs that follow. Click here to read the full article 2016 Year in Review: Money Laundering (Part One).

As part of the U.S. Treasury Department’s ongoing efforts to prevent possible bad actors from using U.S. companies to conceal money laundering, tax evasion, and other illicit financial activities, FinCEN issued, on May 11, 2016, a final rule to strengthen the customer due diligence (CDD) efforts of “covered financial institutions.” This was one of the most important, if not the most important, AML developments in 2016. Covered institutions have until May 11, 2018, to comply with the new CDD rule, which requires covered financial institutions, including banks, federally insured credit unions, broker-dealers, mutual funds, futures commission merchants, and introducing brokers in commodities, to identify the natural persons that own and control legal entity customers—the entities’ “beneficial owners.”

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: FinCEN Finalizes Regulations Regarding Customer Due Diligence

In January 2016, FinCEN issued two geographic targeting orders (GTOs) aimed at combating money laundering in all-cash real estate transactions in the Borough of Manhattan, New York, and Miami-Dade County, Florida—two areas identified by FinCEN as having “a higher than average percentage of all-cash transactions.” The GTOs, which took effect in March 2016, required certain title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind entities using cash to purchase high-end real estate—properties with a sales price of more than $1 million in Miami-Dade County and more than $3 million in Manhattan.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: Real Estate Risks and Mortgage Lender Compliance – FinCEN’s Increasing Focus on AML Risks in Real Estate

The December 2016 FATF Mutual Evaluation Report on the United States’ Measures to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing repeatedly highlighted the need for U.S. regulators and the real estate industry to do more to address money laundering and terrorist financing risks.

The FATF report identified “high-end real estate” transactions as an area needing priority action. In the report, the FATF assessors recommend that FinCEN take further action after analyzing the outcomes from FinCEN’s 2016 GTOs for high-end cash transactions in several U.S. real markets.

Continue Reading 2016 Year in Review: FATF Report Highlights Real Estate Risks and Mortgage Lender Compliance Shortcomings