Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the conviction of Baltimore defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell for money laundering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). The case involved a discussion of when defense attorneys may accept illegally-obtained proceeds from their clients as payment for legal representation. The Fourth Circuit interpreted very narrowly a “safe harbor” provision under 18 U.S.C. § 1957(f) for defense attorneys.
Another recent case is that of New York attorney Robert Wise who pled guilty to a single count of conspiring to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. This case arose out of the indictment of Vladimir Voronchenko, who has been charged in connection with a scheme to make payments to maintain multiple properties in New York and Florida owned by his friend and associate, sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
With these cases, it is apparent that attorneys can get caught up in the problems of their own clients, particularly given the ability of the government to pursue a theory of willful blindness. Attorneys must ensure that they follow the proper ethical and legal guidelines and take the proper precautions to ensure that they are not tainted by their clients’ illicit activities. This includes not accepting tainted funds from clients, even if those funds are provided through third parties.
The safe harbor provision for defense attorneys under 18 U.S.C. § 1957(f) is narrow and strict, and attorneys must be cautious and vigilant in their dealings with clients. It is clear that bad facts can create broader language applicable to other cases. Attorneys must be aware of the potential consequences of engaging in any activity that could be considered money laundering, and must take the necessary steps to ensure that they are in compliance with ethical and legal guidelines.