Table 1: Criminal Money Laundering Prosecutions
The data — obtained by TRAC as a result of a multi-year effort under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — categorizes the money laundering cases under two broad groups: narcotic-related matters ("drug") and non-drug-related ("other").
Of the 310 money laundering prosecutions in FY 2012, Justice Department records showed that more than two out of three (222 of the total, or 72 percent) were non-drug-related and only 88 (or 28 percent) were drug-related.
Money laundering enforcement activities by the government, both what it does and does not do, have been of special interest since the Justice Department on Tuesday agreed to a $1.9 billion settlement against the giant HSBC bank for a large number of violations, choosing not to bring criminal charges against any of the company's officials. In announcing the settlement, the Justice Department argued that "HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures..." Others, however, contend that bringing criminal charges against responsible executives would have been a more effective deterrent against future violations.
Looked at over time, the number of "drug" and "other" money laundering prosecutions have both decreased, although the patterns of changing counts are different.
For the larger group of non-drug cases, the annual total of individuals charged in federal court are significantly down from the highs that were achieved during the first two years of President Bush's second term (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Prosecutions for Money Laundering - Other Since FY 1995
In the drug area, however, money laundering prosecutions in FY 2012 were at an all time low, 12 percent lower than the previous year, down 60 percent from the high reached seven years ago and down 30 percent from a decade ago (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Prosecutions for Money Laundering - Drugs Since FY 1995
Under the law and long accepted tradition, federal prosecutors are authorized for one reason or another to decline the recommendations for prosecutions made by the investigative agencies. In those non-drug matters that were dealt with by the prosecutors in FY 2012 almost four out of five (79 percent) were declined. For drug cases involving money laundering, the declination rate was somewhat lower (70 percent).
Leading Investigative Agencies
The Drug Enforcement Administration was the lead investigative agency for drug-related money laundering prosecutions in FY 2012, accounting for 46.6 percent of prosecutions referred.
As shown in Figure 3, additional agencies with substantial numbers of money laundering-drug referrals were: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (21.6 percent), the Internal Revenue Service (17 percent), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (5.7 percent) and Health and Human Services (2.3 percent).
The "Other" category in Figure 3 (6.8 percent) comprises a diverse group of agencies including the Department of the Interior with 2.3 percent.
For other money laundering prosecutions, the Internal Revenue Service was the lead investigative agency, accounting for 41.9 percent of prosecutions referred in FY 2012.
As shown in Figure 4, additional agencies with substantial numbers of referrals were: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (21.2 percent), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (10.4 percent), Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (7.7 percent) and the Secret Service (4.1 percent).
The "Other" category in Figure 4 (14.7 percent) comprises a diverse group of agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration (4.1 percent), Department of Justice - Other (2.3 percent) and the U.S. Postal Service (2.3 percent).
Top Ranked Judicial Districts
During FY 2011 the Justice Department data indicate that the government obtained 0.3 drug-related and 0.7 other money laundering prosecutions for every one million people in the United States.
Understandably, there is great variation in the number of money laundering prosecutions in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts. The districts registering the largest number of prosecutions per capita during FY 2012 are shown in Tables 2 and 3 for drug-related and non-drug-related money laundering prosecutions, respectively.