Criminal Defense Law Firm

Demystifying Money Laundering Charges in California

Money laundering is a serious criminal offense that involves disguising the proceeds of illegal activities as legitimate funds. In California, this crime is defined under California Penal Code 186.10 PC, which encompasses a wide range of illegal activities. Additionally, drug-related money laundering is specifically addressed under the California Health and Safety Code 11370.9 HS. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be charged with money laundering in California, including the legal definitions, penalties, possible defenses, and the importance of seeking expert legal assistance.

Understanding Money Laundering Under California Law

Money laundering is essentially the process of taking money obtained from illegal activities and making it appear legal by placing it into a bank account or using it in legitimate transactions. The primary objective is to "clean" the money, ensuring it does not lead back to the criminal activities that generated it.

Under California law, money laundering can encompass a wide array of illegal activities. For example, if an individual deposits money earned from running an illegal gambling operation into a California bank, it constitutes money laundering. Similarly, channeling stolen funds into a legitimate California business also falls under the purview of money laundering.

To charge someone with money laundering in California, specific criteria must be met:

  1. Transaction Thresholds: The accused must conduct or attempt to conduct transactions exceeding $5,000 within a week or transactions exceeding $25,000 in a month through one or more financial institutions. These transactions can be in various forms, such as cash deposits or wire transfers.
  2. Intent or Knowledge: The transactions must be conducted either with the intent to further criminal activity or with the knowledge that the money is derived from or linked directly to criminal activity.

Proving the accused's guilt based on these criteria is essential for prosecutors. For instance, if someone unknowingly invests in a business tied to criminal activities, they may not face conviction. However, proving innocence in such cases can be challenging, underscoring the significance of obtaining legal representation.

Money laundering techniques can take various forms, ranging from traditional methods like real estate and shell companies to more modern practices such as using offshore accounts and cryptocurrencies to conceal the source of the funds.

Penalties for Money Laundering in California

In California, money laundering is classified as a "wobbler" offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The specific charge depends on the unique circumstances of the case and the accused's prior criminal record.

  1. Misdemeanor Charges: Misdemeanor charges can result in a maximum of one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
  2. Felony Charges: Felony charges, on the other hand, can lead to a prison sentence of up to four years and/or fines that may reach $250,000 or double the amount laundered, whichever is higher. For repeat offenders, the fines can increase to $500,000 or five times the laundered sum. Additionally, if the amount laundered exceeds $50,000, an extra year may be added to the prison term, and if it surpasses $2.5 million, up to four additional years could be imposed.

Defenses Against Money Laundering Charges

Several potential defenses can be raised against money laundering charges:

  1. Lack of Intent or Knowledge: The accused can argue that they were unaware of the money's criminal origins or that they had no intent to further criminal activities. Establishing a lack of intent or knowledge can be a valid defense.
  2. Transaction Thresholds: If the transactions fall below the defined monetary thresholds (i.e., less than $5,000 in a week or less than $25,000 in a month), it can serve as a defense against money laundering charges.
  3. Constitutional Rights Violations: If law enforcement violated the accused's constitutional rights during the investigation or arrest, such as conducting unlawful arrests, coercing confessions, or executing unwarranted searches, it can lead to the dismissal of charges.

Seek Expert Legal Assistance

Being charged with money laundering is a serious matter with potentially severe consequences. The complexity of money laundering cases, the need to establish intent or knowledge, and the various defenses available all underscore the importance of seeking expert legal assistance.

Legal professionals, such as the attorneys at Gasner Law, are well-versed in handling money laundering cases in California. They can provide crucial guidance, develop strong defense strategies, and work to secure the best possible outcome for the accused.


Money laundering is a criminal offense that encompasses various illegal activities in California. Understanding the legal definitions, transaction thresholds, penalties, and possible defenses is crucial for anyone facing money laundering charges. With the potential for both misdemeanor and felony charges, as well as severe penalties, securing expert legal representation is essential to navigate the complexities of such cases and protect one's rights and interests. Money laundering charges are not to be taken lightly, and individuals facing these allegations should seek immediate legal assistance to mount a robust defense.