The U.S. government has a plethora of criminal statutes designed to curb the illicit transfer of funds and the flow of money in the underground economy. Federal law enforcement officers can investigate unlicensed money transmitting businesses (i.e. hawala) pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1960, ensure compliance with reporting requirements in 31 U.S.C. 5316, investigate structured transfers (or “smurfing”) subject to 31 U.S.C. 5324, investigate RICO related foreign travel in 18 U.S.C. 1952, and intercept bulk cash smuggling pursuant to 31 U.S.C. 5332. These are in addition to the anti-money laundering and tax evasion statutes also found in the U.S. code.

Law enforcement officers from the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement rely on these authorities to, either directly or indirectly, disrupt and dismantle criminal networks that move bulk cash. Although you may not consider yourself an associate of a criminal network, you are still at risk of being criminally prosecuted for technical violations of these statutes.

At least since 9/11 and the USAPATRIOT Act the U.S. has identified the link between illicit funds, criminal enterprises, and terrorist organizations that endanger American national security. To curb these threats Congress has unapologetically empowered the executive branch to shine a light on funds transfers by either targeting institutions or individuals that facilitate money transfers or targeting the transfers themselves when they are worth more than $10,000 USD. From the U.S. government’s perspective, if everyone with legitimate funds complied with its financial laws, then the only funds left to be transferred outside the law would be the ones derived from illicit activities. Therefore it is imperative for any individuals looking to move around money to fully comply with Treasury’s reporting requirements and to utilize only licensed money transmitters, in addition to satisfying any tax liabilities. Merely paying your taxes will not exonerate you from violations of the financial criminal statutes listed above.

As if the federal government didn’t have enough assistance from the authority granted to it by Congress, ICE provides a law enforcement resource known as the Bulk Cash Smuggling Center (BCSC). The BCSC provides real-time tactical intelligence, investigative support and expertise to federal, state, tribal, local, and foreign law enforcement authorities. This center is available to law enforcement officers 24-hours a day so that they always have access to financial investigative expertise that will help them better follow the money trail, seize and forfeit criminal proceeds. In addition to using K-9 units to identify large amounts of cash, BCSC has awarded government contracts to technology firms to research and develop nonintrusive technology that can more accurately identify large amounts of U.S dollars, Canadian dollars, and Euros. These efforts have recently made enforcement more effective than ever. In 2010 alone 203 individuals were arrested and over $101 million USD was seized. Many of the offenses can lead to sentences that could be as severe as several years in prison.

So please, be mindful of these laws the next time you need to transport money internationally between family members or friends. There is no law limiting the amount of money you can move, so long as you follow the rules associated with moving it.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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