Busted With Lots of Cash-Is that a Crime?

In a recent episode of AMC’s epic drama Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman-the much maligned partner of anti-hero Walter White-is seen driving his car in the middle of the night through a neighborhood while throwing bundles of cash toward homes as the residents are sound asleep.  He is later caught with almost 5 million in the car.  The large amount of cash leads the local police and DEA to cynically conclude that Jesse is a drug dealer resulting in his arrest and some intense interrogation.

But many may want to know, “what-if anything-is Jesse Pinkman guilty of by getting busted with a large amount of cash?”

First things first, the money, as one can imagine, is gone without a doubt. “Initials”, as I like to call them, i.e. DEA., IRS. or DOJ will seize the cash under Federal Forfeiture laws faster than you can blink an eye.  The unemployed Jesse cannot show that the monies were derived from a legitimate source so said monies can be forfeited without the Feds ever filing a criminal charge.

The question remains, was having a lot of money a crime?  Jesse, in my opinion, can refuse to answer any law enforcement questions and will be released within a few hours without facing any criminal charges.  Some may ask if he could be charged with money laundering?  The offense of money laundering was explained in one of my previous blogs.  (What is Money Laundering?)  Federal money laundering statutes and cases, however, require the Government to prove that the defendant conducted or attempted to conduct a financial transaction, knowing that the property involved in the financial transaction represents the proceeds of some unlawful activity.  See 18 U.S.C. 1956.  The term “financial transaction” is defined very broadly in §1956(c)(4) and it includes a purchase, sale, loan, gift, transfer and with respect to a financial institution, a deposit, withdrawal, or extension of credit.

In Jesse’s case, the government is probably correct in its belief that he is a drug dealer and that the monies are drug profits-clearly an illegal activity.  But fortunately for him, unless the government has evidence of drug activity (the cash alone is not enough) Jesse skates out of police headquarters without facing any felony charges.

So having confiscated from your person or vehicle a large sum of cash is no big deal?  The Feds and other agencies will not just forget and forgive?  As Lee Corso of ESPN’s College Game Day fame would say- “No so fast!”  Simply put, your troubles are just beginning.  Suddenly, you are on the radar of numerous state and local law enforcement agencies including the IRS.  You will be investigated.  You and your home will be under surveillance while your tax returns, cell phone records, bank accounts, social media sites, travel records, and even your trash will be examined in hopes of finding evidence of illegal activity so that a search warrant of your home or business or a wiretap of or phone can be justified.

Other potential problems can also occur.  If during the investigation, law enforcement believes that you have destroyed, concealed evidence or attempted to influence witnesses then you could be charged with obstruction of justice-which is a very serious charge under federal law and often snares politicians and businesses trying to avoid prosecution for the underlying charge.  In addition, targets and subjects of federal investigations can be subpoenaed to produce records and or to testify before a Federal Grand Jury.  Again, this can create additional problems because a failure to produce documents or other tangible objects, like computers, can result in a charge of obstruction of justice.  Likewise, false testimony before a Grand Jury can result in a perjury charge.

Because of these complexities of these matters, individuals charged with related crimes, such as: money laundering, obstruction of justice, evidence tampering, possession of or intent to distribute narcotics, or other drug related crimes, it is best to contact an experienced attorney.

Have a criminal defense issue?  W. Joseph Edwards is an experienced attorney with over 30 years of criminal defense work.  Available 24/7 at 614.309.0243.  Call for a case consultation.

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