ILNews

SCOTUS quiet on money-laundering case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The nation's highest court hasn't yet ruled on an East Chicago case involving money laundering, but that could be because justices are waiting to hear a similar case before making a decision.

Indianapolis attorney Todd Vare with Barnes & Thornburg argued before the Supreme Court of the United States Oct. 3, but so far the court hasn't issued a decision on U.S. v. Efrain Santos, No. 06-1005.

Ten of the 14 cases argued that month have been ruled on, as well as other cases argued before the justices since October.

One possible reason the court hasn't ruled yet is that it's going to consider another similar case at the same time, said Vare, who represents Santos. Less than two weeks after his arguments last fall, justices accepted Cuellar v. U.S., No. 06-1456, that deals with the question of whether merely hiding funds without trying to make that money appear "clean" or "laundered" is sufficient to support a money-laundering conviction.

Arguments are set for Monday morning, and Vare anticipates the court will decide both simultaneously.

"It's possible - now quite probable - that the court will issue opinions in both cases on the same day," Vare said, adding that he hopes the delay will bode well for his client.

In Santos, the court is considering the definition of money laundering and the word "proceeds" as it's used in the federal statute. Federal Circuit Courts, including the 7th Circuit in Chicago, do not agree on an exact definition and have disagreed about whether it's considered money laundering to pay for the operation of a criminal enterprise with the profits of that illegal business. The nation's high court will determine whether the ban on the use of "proceeds" of a crime to promote or conceal it - "laundering" the proceeds - applies to the total amount of money or only the profits after expenses.

Specifically, this case involves the federal prosecution of an old tavern lottery raid where Santos - known as "Puerto Rican Frankie" - was arrested for running the illegal operation throughout northwest Indiana from the 1970s to 1994. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 1998, but he was later released after the 7th Circuit heard two other cases in 2000 and 2002 and issued rulings that changed the interpretation of money laundering.

Following those decisions, U.S. District Judge James Moody in Hammond ruled that Santos' actions were no longer considered money laundering because of an interpretation of "net proceeds" and "gross proceeds" in federal laws.

Vare took Santos' case as part of the 7th Circuit's pro bono appointment program.

The Cuellar case deals with the concealment prong of the statute, while Santos involves the "promotion" prong of the statute, Vare said. He recalled how several justices focused on how a ruling in Santos could affect cases arising under that concealment issue raised in Cuellar.
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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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