Criminal operations, such as organized efforts to bring prohibited drugs into the country, don't always look criminal from the outside. In order to successfully profit off of illegal activity, those who break the law often have to follow it as well. In fact, it is common for legal, even successful, businesses to play a role in criminal activities. They can help a company turn illegal profits into spendable, taxed money.
Restaurants, laundromats and any business that deals in cash can serve as an option for laundering money earned through illegal activities. Anything from a bodega to a car wash could offer actual services to the community while also serving as a way to legitimize money earned through criminal activities.
If you work for a company suspected of laundering money, particularly if you are a manager or the business owner, you could wind up implicated in a criminal conspiracy or accused of laundering money.
What is money laundering?
When people conduct illegal business, the money that they earn doing so is subject to asset forfeiture if they get caught. It can be difficult for successful criminals to access and spend the money they make, as large purchases with cash are often red flags for law enforcement. While people can make numerous, small cash deposits, eventually those could also be red flags in a criminal investigation.
Money laundering is a way for someone engaged in criminal activity to make the profit they earned appear to have come from a legal business. They will pay tax on it and be able to deposit it in a bank and spend it more freely.
For example, someone who has made thousands of dollars trafficking narcotics from Mexico could launder that money through a restaurant by reporting sales that didn't occur. Provided that the restaurant is successful and open for operations, it will be difficult for law enforcement to determine which transactions were legitimate and which were an attempt to launder money.
You might not just get charged with a financial crime
Money laundering on its own may not seem like such a serious crime, especially if you compare it with felony drug trafficking. However, if law enforcement officers allege that your business is part of a broader criminal enterprise intended to turn illegitimate profits into taxed, spendable money, the prosecutor could theoretically charge everyone involved with conspiracy charges.
In other words, even those who play minor roles and don't directly engage in the illegal acts that produce the money the business launders could face the same charges as human traffickers or actual drug dealers.
Just running a business frequented by those with a criminal history doesn't necessarily mean you are also a criminal, but it may look suspicious to local law enforcement. As with any kind of criminal offense, those accused of conspiracy or money laundering offenses have the right to defend themselves against the allegations brought against them.