On June 14, 2012 seven individuals and four check cashing businesses were charged in the Eastern District of New York and the Central District of California for their alleged roles in separate schemes to violate the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). The defendants allegedly failed to follow reporting and anti-money laundering requirements for transactions totalling more than $50 million. A total of four indictments were filed.

Two of the indictments were returned in Los Angeles and named three individuals and two check cashing businesses. The other two indictments were returned in Brooklyn and named four individuals and two check cashing businesses. All seven individual defendants were arrested or surrendered to authorities. Those named in the indictments include Belair Payroll Services, Bargain Island, G&A Check Cashing, and AAA Cash Advance, all check cashing businesses. The individuals names in the indictments include Craig Panzera, Lasha Goletiani, Zhan Petrosyants, George Gonchar, Karen Gasparian, Humberto Sanchez, and Diana Brigitt.

The four indictments charge the defendants with failure to file currency transaction reports (“CTRs”) or falsely filing CTRs, as well as failure to have an effective anti-money laundering program, all violations under the BSA.

The BSA is a set of laws and regulations enacted by Congress to address an increase in criminal money laundering through financial institutions, which include check cashing businesses. Check cashers enable people to cash checks without having to go to a bank account or maintain a bank account. A check casher will typically charge a fee for this service.

Under the BSA, financial institutions, including check cashers, are required to file a CTR with the Department of Treasury for any transaction involving more than $10,000 in currency. As part of the CTR, the check casher is required to verify and accurately record the name and address of the individual who conducted the currency transaction, the individual on whose behalf the transaction was conducted, as well as the amount and date of the transaction. CTRs are important law enforcement tools for uncovering criminal activity.

The BSA also requires financial institutions, including check cashing businesses, to maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program. The purpose of an AML program is to effectively detect and prevent attempts to facilitate money laundering. Check-cashing businesses are therefore required to have written policies and procedures regarding CTR filings, records maintenance and responses to law enforcement.

According to the indictments, despite these regulations, check-cashing businesses are a common venue for individuals who want to anonymously cash large numbers of checks to facilitate fraud and money laundering schemes. According to the indictments, the use of check cashers to launder money is particularly prevalent in the area of health care fraud, where fraudulent health care businesses commonly convert the proceeds of their fraud into cash by presenting checks to check cashers who they know will not ask for proof of the payee’s identity and will either not file CTRs or file false CTRs.

The BSA is intended to assist both the private sector and the government in its detection and prevention of criminal money laundering. By implementing these regulations, financial institutions provide law enforcement agencies from around the world with valuable insight into the banking and financial activities of people from all walks of life. Although the specific conduct of those named in the indictments may not in any way be connected to the criminal activity they’re designed to detect, the allegations of noncompliance with CTRs and anti-money laundering programs are in and of themselves considered criminal conduct.

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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