The term "money laundering" often conjures up images of organized criminal organizations using sophisticated financial tools to make the proceeds of criminal activity appear to be legitimate. In Texas, however, money laundering can refer to a far wider range of activity.
Texas Penal Code § 34.02 says that a person commits money laundering if that person knowingly does any of the following:
(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.
"Criminal activity" is defined as any offense that is classified as a felony Texas or the United States; or is punishable by confinement for more than one year under the laws of another state. Tex.Penal Code Â§ 34.01(1). Therefore, a person who knowingly does almost anything with money acquired from a felony can be guilty of money laundering, regardless of whether that person held the money, hid the money, transferred the money, or did anything else with it.
The punishment range for money laundering depends upon the amount of "proceeds" at issue. A person who commits money laundering faces the following possible punishment ranges:
(1) a state jail felony if the value of the funds is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000 (six months to two years in a state jail facility and a fine not to exceed $10,000);
(2) a felony of the third degree if the value of the funds is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000 (two years to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000);
(3) a felony of the second degree if the value of the funds is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000 (two years to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000); or
(4) a felony of the first degree if the value of the funds is $300,000 or more (five years to 99 years or life in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000).
In an effort to supplement declining budgets, many prosecutors have started using money laundering as a means to justify seizing valuable assets, including cash, bank deposits, stock, motor vehicles, real property, and other items of value.
As the former Chief of the Organized Crime Section of the Harris County District Attorney's Office, Ed McClees is well versed in the complexities involved in the Texas money laundering statute, and in the laws regarding the forfeiture of assets. Ed has defended individuals charged with complex money laundering schemes. Give us a call if you have been charged with money laundering or if you believe that you may be the target of a money laundering investigation.