Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bank Account Seizures by ICE and DEA for Money Laundering

Peter Quinter, Esq.
This past year has seen an explosion of seizures of bank accounts by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for alleged trade-based money laundering or "structuring". In 2011, I have handled these cases in Miami, New York, San Diego, Boston, Phoenix, San Juan, and Norfolk.  The funds in the bank accounts are taken when the bank is served with a Seizure Warrant signed by a United States Magistrate Judge, based upon an affidavit prepared by the DEA or ICE Agent.

Typically, the bank (and its customer) do not get to see the Affidavit because the criminal proceeding is ongoing, and the Affidavit is sealed.  The Seizure Warrant itself typically alleges that the money is subject to seizure because it is the proceeds of drug activity in violation of 21 U.S.C. 881 and 18 U.S.C. 1956.

A related legal basis for the seizure of bank accounts is 'structuring' - the deposit of $10,000 or less in cash repeatedly in a bank account to avoid the filing by the bank of a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen), U.S. Department of the Treasury .  See 31 CFR 1010.314.  A CTR is FinCen Form 104.  A CTR is required to be filed by all banks whenever a deposit of cash over $10,000 is made in a single day into a single account or by a customer into different accounts.  Be aware that deposits of cash into multiple branches of a bank or in multiple transactions is still structuring.  See 31 CFR 1010.313.  Whenever a bank suspects that its depositor or customer is depositing $10,000 or less to avoid the bank filing the CTR, the bank often instead files a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR).  The SAR reports are analyzed by FinCen, and often referred to the DEA or ICE for investigation.  Some of the investigations results in seizures of bank accounts as mentioned above.

Bank account holders absolutely have the right to challenge the taking of their money by the DEA or ICE.  If your money has been seized, you have a right to know the legal basis for the seizure, and should, through your attorney, contact the DEA or ICE Agent, or the Assistant U.S. Attorney.  In civil forfeiture cases, there is an administrative process to follow once a Notice of Seizure is issued to the bank account holder by the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or a Notice of Seizure by the DEA.  If the Notice of Seizure is from CBP, file a Petition, and if the Notice of Seizure is issued by the DEA, file a Sworn Claim with the Asset Forfeiture Section located in Quantico, Virginia.  The procedures of both agencies are very specific, and must be followed carefully, otherwise, your right to challenge the seizure will be lost forever.
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Comments or questions, click below, or contact me directly.
Peter Quinter, Partner in Charge, Customs and International Trade Law Department
(954) 270-1864 or peter.quinter@gray-robinson.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NAFTA and Mexican Government Questionnaires to U.S. Exporters

In the past year, the Mexican Government (SAT) has issued questionnaires to exporters from the United States which provided a NAFTA Certificate of Origin to the Mexican importer. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Certificate of Origin is always created and signed by the U.S. exporter or producer, and always provided to the Mexican importer at the time of importation so that the Mexican importer may importer the merchandise into Mexico without paying any customs duties.    Years later, the Mexican Government may send a questionnaire to first the U.S. exporter, and then the Mexican importer, demanding proof that the merchandise really "originated" in the United States and properly entered Mexico without any payment of customs duties.

 The problems are (1) the U.S. exporter falsely completed the NAFTA Certificate of origin either intentionally or by ignorance, (2) the U.S. exporter relied on the U.S. producer who provided misleading information to the U.S. exporter, or (3) the records establishing that the merchandise originated in the United States are not available.

I usually recommend the U.S. exporter who received a letter from the SAT of the Mexican Government to respond. Moreover, it is best to seek the assistance of the supplier of the merchandise to the U.S. exporter and the Mexican importer. If the questionnaire is not answered properly and timely, the SAT will deny the NAFTA preferential treatment, and demand payment of customs duties, late fees, interest, and penalties from the Mexican importer, plus perhaps antidumping duties.  The Mexican importer may end up paying those charges to the Mexican Government agency and then seek full reimbursement, plus legal fees, from the U.S. exporter. 

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For any questions or comments, please contact Peter Quinter at peter.quinter@gray-robinson.com
or by phone at 305-416-6960.