On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez signed a letter of intent for the United States to share approximately $6 million in forfeited funds with the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico (PGR) to support Mexican efforts to combat the financial infrastructure of organized criminal groups and to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two countries in forfeiture matters.

The letter of intent recognizes the PGR’s recent cooperation in the investigation and resolution of the U.S. government’s case against Sigue Corporation for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). In January 2008, Sigue entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice on charges of failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. As a result, Sigue forfeited $15 million to the United States and agreed to commit an additional $9.7 million to improving its anti-money laundering program.

Sigue is a large international corporation engaged in money transfer services, with a focus on transactions between the U.S., Mexico and Latin America. Money transfer services operating in the U.S. are required to comply with the BSA, which includes anti-money laundering provisions. Specifically, money transmitters are required to implement internal preventative measures to guard against money laundering and must report suspicious activity to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

The case, filed in the Eastern District of Missouri, arose out of transactions conducted by Sigue and its authorized agents from November 2003 through March 2005. During this time, more than $24.7 million in suspicious transactions were allegedly conducted through registered agents of Sigue, including transactions conducted by undercover U.S. law enforcement agents using funds represented to be proceeds of drug trafficking. According to the government’s theory, Sigue did not identify broader patterns of money laundering activity, failed to prevent the unlawful activity from continuing and did not create systems and procedures to identify suspicious financial transactions being conducted by related senders and beneficiaries.

Failure to comply with the BSA may result in civil and criminal penalties, with this case being a prime example. Sigue was forced to forfeit $15 million to the DOJ to avoid prosecution, and was also required to pay an additional $12 million in civil penalties to FinCEN.

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 ferrari@ferrari-legal.com.

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