Money laundering is punishable as a crime in New Jersey, but the terms of the money laundering statute are less than clear. Specifically, there is a debate as to the meaning of the phrase “amount involved,” which is used to determine the severity of the offense. Thus, a New Jersey court recently clarified the meaning of the term in a case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for money laundering. If you are charged with money laundering or another fraud crime, it is advisable to speak to a trusted New Jersey criminal defense attorney regarding what defenses you may be able to assert.
Facts of the Case
Reportedly, the defendant took merchandise from his employer’s warehouse without permission. The merchandise had been purchased by the employer for $878,000 but had a value of approximately $4,000,000. The defendant then sold a portion of the merchandise for $63,000 to a woman in New Hampshire. The defendant was then charged with numerous crimes, including first-degree money laundering, which pursuant to the money laundering statute is an offense where the amount involved is greater than $500,000.
Allegedly, the defendant moved to have the charges amended to third-degree money laundering, which was an offense where the amount involved was less than $75,000, due to the fact that he only received $63,000 for the stolen goods. The judge then determined that the amount involved was $283,500, which constituted a second-degree offense. The State appealed.
Meaning of “Amount Involved” In Money Laundering
In New Jersey, three different acts constitute money laundering: possessing or transporting property a reasonable person would believe was derived from criminal activity, transactions meant to promote criminal activity, and transactions intended to hide the location or ownership of property obtained by criminal activity. Promoting money laundering occurs when the money obtained from the criminal activity is invested back into the criminal venture.
The money laundering statute includes the term “amount involved” to define how offenses should be graded but does not offer a definition for the term. Similarly, the appellate court found that the legislative history did not offer any insight as to how the phrase should be interpreted. The appellate court noted that other laws included similar phrases and definitions for those phrases, but found that there was no evidence that the New Jersey legislature intended to rely on those statutes in establishing the elements of money laundering under New Jersey law.
Ultimately, the appellate court determined that under the transactional provision of the statute the defendant was charged with violating, he could only be liable for what he transacted, and not what he transported or possessed. The appellate court noted, however, that the jury was permitted to determine the value of the goods transacted, which could conceivably be much higher than $63,000. As such, the appellate court reinstated the first-degree charge.
Speak to a Zealous Criminal Defense Attorney
The money laundering statute, like many laws, is not entirely clear, and the lack of clarity could cause adverse outcomes for criminal defendants. If you are charged with a crime involving fraud or theft, the zealous New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can inform you of your rights and formulate an effective defense to help you seek a successful result. We can be contacted at 877-450-8301 or through our online form to schedule a conference.