Defending Clients Against Money Laundering in New Jersey
Our office recently represented a client who had been arrested for 3rd degree money laundering in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The background of the case is pretty interesting and these facts are something we are seeing more and more these days, often leading to innocent people being charged with money laundering. Imagine you’re a contractor you’ve just been paid for a project that you completed or maybe you’re not a contractor at all and just decided to sell some old items on Craigslist for quick cash. Not to far fetched right? Happens every day. But if you were paid in cash it could become a problem. These days with credit cards and phone apps like Venmo and Paypal people are less and less likely to carry large amounts of cash on them. Factors like this have made cops very suspicion when they come across large amounts of cash after they search someone or their house and car. In fact, we have been seeing many police taking the “charge now ask questions later” approach and rushing to charge defendants with money laundering if they find cash. By not giving the defendant an opportunity to produce records authenticating the money, you could be stuck trying to prove your innocence after the fact in court.
Can Carrying Around Cash Lead To Money Laundering Charges?
Yes and in this case it did. The case we are talking about started after our client, a Spanish non-citizen, was pulled over in Middlesex Borough for a minor traffic violation. But what appeared to be a simple traffic stop soon materialized into a full on interrogation. According to the police report our client seemed overly nervous just for a simple traffic stop so they thought he must be hiding more. Based on this hunch they called in their K-9 unit to have a dog sniff the car. The dog alerted to the smell of drugs from a bag in the backseat of the car. However, when they opened the bag all they found was cash. For those of us who deal with a lot of cash, we know its not uncommon for cash to have a smell from the person who may have handled the bills previously. The cash totaled a approximately $7,500 and when questioned about the funds, our client said he had nothing to hide. He explained he bought and sold used cars (typically for cash) for a living and had just recently sold a car that day. He even produced his auction license that allows him to attend car auctions and bid on cars. But the cops didn’t want to listen and charged him with money laundering anyway.
How Did We Get The Money Laundering Dismissed?
Based on the facts of the case, we half expected the prosecutor’s office to just agree to administratively dismiss the charges or remand the case back to municipal court. However, we soon figured out they still wanted to prosecute the case and would agree to let our client apply for Pre-Trial Intervention but would not dismiss the case. Now while many lawyers may have jumped at this opportunity and steered their client to take PTI, because it can be a fantastic result in some circumstances, we felt that in this case PTI just wouldn’t be a just result given the lack of evidence to support the crime of money laundering and the problematic issues that led to the search of our client’s vehicle in the first place. So we stuck to our guns and pushed back saying we would only accept a complete dismissal of this case or litigate it. We also provided the prosecutor’s office with a copy of our client’s auction license and sales receipts for sold cars on the day in question and the days leading up to the arrest. This way it would force their hand to present this evidence to the grand jury if they decided to still move forward with the indictment. But they wanted our guy bad and even after we produced these documents, the prosecutor was still reluctant to dismiss the case and assigned his detectives to look into the legitimacy of the documents we produced. However, after several weeks of investigation everything continued to add up and without any evidence of criminal activity they were forced to dismiss all charges. Our client was able to walk out of Superior Court with no record, no fines and no probation and he was even able to get his money back from the prosecutor’s office after it was seized by the police.
State v. A.J.G. decided June 28, 2018