Harsh Sentence for Miami Check-Cashing Store Owner

Jun 26, 2009   

The owner of Miami, Florida’s La Bamba Check Cashing store, Juan Rene Caro was sentenced in Federal court on June 23, 2009 to serve 216 months in prison, pay a $250,000 penalty, and forfeit $11 million in assets for his conviction on conspiracy and fraud charges in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act.Caro’s now-defunct store offered illegal check-cashing services to construction companies and other business people seeking to mask the identity of the true recipients of the funds. A company would engage La Bamba to cash a check in the name of a shell corporation, but the real company’s owner would take cash. Most of these companies were local construction companies and subcontractors.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, financial institutions – including check-cashing stores – are required to file currency transaction reports (CTRs), a notification to the U.S. Department of Treasury, disclosing the identity of parties to a transaction when amounts greater than $10,000 are involved. The financial institution must also verify and record the identity, social security number, or taxpayer ID number of the person benefiting from the transaction.

The companies using La Bamba’s services evaded taxation on an amalgamated total of $132 million. La Bamba profited from the filing of false CTRs by taking a fee of between 3% and 5% for performing such transactions.

U.S. Department of Justice enforcement of CTR requirements has ramped up recently with charges against small and big-time players alike. For example, Newport Beach, California, financier Danny Pang was accused this Spring of structuring transactions to avoid filing CTRs, as were the owners of a small machine shop in Rhode Island who similarly avoided CTRs in order to conceal business receipts and thereby evade taxation.

Although Caro’s attorney called the sentence unfair, comments from the Department of Justice and the Judge Joan Lenard’s hefty sentence indicate broad acceptance of a zero-tolerance attitude towards fraud and financial crimes that harm the American taxpayer. It should also be noted that the prosecution sought a longer prison term and more assets than those ordered to be forfeited by Judge Lenard.

Read the Department of Justice’s posting of the indictment against Mr. Caro for a detailed description of the mechanics of Caro’s crime as well as a list of the assets sought by the government.

For insight and strategies on maintaining compliance with state and federal regulation of financial services, please contact Fuerst Ittleman at 305-350-5690 or contact@fidjlaw.com.