The act of taking “dirty” money — money that’s been obtained illegally — and trying to “clean it” so that it appears to be the proceeds of legitimate investments or legitimate income is called money laundering. It’s illegal, even if you aren’t involved in the illegal transactions that produced those funds.

When money laundering occurs, it usually profits the person who acquired the money the most. Laundered funds are used to hide illegal activities, evade taxes, avoid prosecution for illegal acts and fund additional criminal activity. The federal government is heavily invested in stopping money laundering because that helps “defund” various criminal enterprises.

There are many ways that money laundering can occur. One key component is that the person doing the money laundering will usually try to deposit cash in a bank account or use it for investments like real estate or precious metals. When a person goes to deposit money in a financial institution, there are specific questions that must be answered if the deposit is over a certain amount. Those deposits are reported to the federal authorities if they meet specific requirements. Even when the amounts are small enough to avoid being reported, however, there’s always a paper trail.

If you’re accused of money laundering, the paper trail is one of the obstacles that you might face with your defense. It is imperative that you work with your attorney to determine what defense strategy options you have. Be prepared to go through a great number of your financial records so that you can talk about each transaction you made that’s under scrutiny.

Money laundering is a serious offense that can easily result in a lengthy prison sentence. Because of the complexity of these cases, you don’t want to try to handle the situation on your own.