Eliot Smurfer

by Walter Olson on March 11, 2008

The Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 was meant to criminalize the practice of “smurfing”, or evading reporting requirements on the transfer of large sums of cash by breaking the sums down into transactions below the threshold. (“Smurfs” were low-level operatives who agreed to go into banks repeatedly making deposits slightly below the trigger amount.) Who’d've imagined the law would trip up the best-known white collar crime prosecutor of our era? Newsday has the story, which has a Long Island angle:

Spitzer last year had wanted to wire transfer more than $10,000 from his branch to what turned out to be the front for the prostitution ring, QAT Consulting Group, which also uses a number of other names, in New Jersey, the sources said.

But Spitzer had the money broken down into several smaller amounts of less than $10,000 each, apparently to avoid federal regulations requiring the reporting of the transfer of $10,000 or more, the sources said. …

Apparently, having second thoughts about even sending the total amount in this manner, Spitzer then asked that the bank take his name off the wires, the sources said.

Bank officials declined, however, saying that it was improper to do so and in any event, it was too late to do so, because the money already had been sent, the sources said.

The bank, as is required by law, filed an SAR, or Suspicious Activity Report, with the Internal Revenue Service….

Millions of SARs are generated each week and flow into the Internal Revenue Service nationwide, but an analyst at the regional IRS office in Hauppauge [L.I.] noted Spitzer’s particular SAR and singled it out for attention to criminal investigators, the sources said.

The assumption, the sources said, was that Spitzer was being victimized either by a blackmailer or an impostor. The agents also speculated that perhaps the governor was involved in some sort of political corruption, the sources said.

Beldar (writing a day or two ago; note his update and caveats in an excellent post today):

If there were no other organized crime connections, that’s the kind of crime that might well result in a no-prison time recommendation and sentencing calculation for a first offender pleading guilty and cooperating.

AP also covers the smurfing charges, while Scott Greenfield has thoughts on the gradual erosion of financial privacy; I opined on some related matters in Reason a while back. WSJ law blog and Andrew McCarthy @ NRO discuss other charges that prosecutors might conceivably deploy against the governor. McCarthy, incidentally, contends that “innocent people in legitimate cash businesses have no concern” from the reporting requirements, which is not what I’ve heard.

More details from Wednesday’s NYT: It appears bank Suspicious Activities Reports separately directed investigators’ interest to Spitzer’s transactions and to the escort service front, QAT Consulting, and then the two investigations converged. “When he was New York State’s attorney general, Mr. Spitzer himself used the reports [SARs] to make his cases.”

Earlier here.

{ 1 comment }

1 Robin 03.13.08 at 1:19 pm

These money laundering requirements are another example of the Feds forcing private parties to perform their searches for them, thereby circumventing constitutional restrictions. These particular laws seem extreme in how far they have taken this, but there are other solid examples such as BATFE records requirements which form a defacto firearms registry.

The country needs some smart lawyers to figure out a way to get such government activity overturned on 4th ammendment or other constitutional grounds.

It cannot be (although I guess it is) that the government can force private citizens to do what it is forbidden to do itself, nor authorize people (via agencies of the government) to do what it is forbidden to do by the constitution.

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