Two Attorneys Arrested and Charged with Structuring Transactions to Avoid Bank Secrecy Act Reporting Requirements

Dec 01, 2011   

On November 4, 2011, two New Jersey attorneys, Goldie Sommer and Edward Engelhart, were charged with conspiring to violate and violating the Bank Secrecy Acts (“BSA”) by “structuring” attorney trust account deposits in order to evade BSA reporting requirements. A copy of the criminal complaint can be read here.

Generally speaking, the BSA, 31 U.S.C. 5311-5330, and its implementing regulations, found at 31 C.F.R. Chapter X, require financial institutions to keep records of certain financial transactions and report these transactions to the federal government. The BSA was designed to prevent financial institutions from being used as part of illicit activity such as money laundering, drug trafficking, tax evasion, and terrorist financing.

In particular, 31 U.S.C. § 5313 (a) requires domestic financial institutions, including banks, which are involved in a transaction for the payment, receipt, or transfer of United States currency in an amount greater than $10,000.00, to file a currency transaction report (“CTR”) for each cash transaction with the IRS. Additionally, pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 1010.313, “multiple currency transactions shall be treated as a single transaction if the financial institution has knowledge that they are by or on behalf of any person and result in either cash in or cash out totaling more than $10,000 during any one business day.”

Occasionally, depositors will “structure” their transactions so that multiple cash deposits are made each under $10,000, sometimes over the course of several days or at multiple braches of a bank, in an effort to avoid the reporting requirements of the BSA. Such activity is known as “structuring” and is prohibited by federal law. 31 U.S.C. § 5324 makes it a crime for an individual to: a) “cause or attempt to cause a domestic financial institution to fail to file a report under § 5313(a);” b) “cause or attempt to cause a domestic financial institution to file a report required under § 5313(a) that contains a material omission or misstatement of fact;” or c) “structure or assist in structuring, any transaction with one or more domestic financial institutions” for the purpose of evading the reporting requirements of § 5313(a). More information on the BSA can be found on FinCENs website.

According to the complaint, between August 13, 2010 and September 22, 2010, Sommer and Engelhart structured a series of deposits into their attorney trust account totaling $118,000. The government alleged that most of these deposits included even dollar amounts each under $10,000 and occurred on the same day or within a short period of time. However, when taken in the aggregate, the deposits should each have exceeded the $10,000 threshold, thus requiring the filing of a report. Additionally, the government alleged that during the same period of time similarly structured deposits were placed into the personal accounts of Sommer, Engelhart and “other individuals associated with [them].” Checks were then drawn from the personal accounts and placed in the defendants trust account. In total, authorities allege that $354,000 was structured into the trust account.

The complaint further alleged that during a June 16, 2011 meeting with the IRS both Sommer and Engelhart admitted that they had agreed to structure the deposits into the trust account. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Sommer and Engelhart admitted to receiving the currency from a client of their firm for the purchase of real estate and “inferred that the client wished that the funds would be deposited into a bank without the filing of any forms with the [IRS].” If convicted of structuring, Sommer and Engelhart can face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture of the structured funds.

If you have questions pertaining to the BSA, anti-money laundering compliance or how to ensure that your business maintains regulatory compliance at both the state and federal levels, contact Fuerst Ittleman PL at contact@fidjlaw.com