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Guilty plea in $19 million check-cashing scheme

The DOJ announced a guilty plea Tuesday by a check-cashing company and its owner for processing $19 million in transactions that were used to set up sham businesses.

Books and records relating to a firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) program — much like those used to comply with the FCPA’s recordkeeping requirements as mandated by the SEC — can be reviewed by the SEC, DOJ or state examiners in regulatory investigations.

The SEC’s AML compliance requirements describe the recordkeeping rules businesses must use to stay in compliance. The rules include having an AML program and policy manual, independent testing of these policies and procedures, ongoing training for employees, screening of clients against Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) lists, among others.

In Tuesday’s action, the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, in conjunction with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division and the Internal Revenue Service, said  that Craig Panzera and his check-cashing business, Belair Payroll Services Inc. in Flushing, New Yord, failed to follow reporting and AML requirements for more than $19 million in transactions.

According to court records, from about June 2009 to June 2011, checks to be cashed were presented to Belair’s manager and other employees, written on accounts that appeared to be healthcare-related firms. The companies actually did no legitimate business and the checks had been written in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States.

Belair’s acceptance of the checks, and cash payments of more than $10,000, were done without any identification being shown by the individuals seeking the money. Additionally, Belair filed currency transaction reports that were inaccurate, failing to indicate the full amount of cash provided to these individuals. 

Belair and Penzara did not maintain an effective AML program with proper monitoring, controls and recordkeeping leading to checks supporting shell companies being cashed during the course of several years. In addition, they were charged with and pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by purposefully failing to pay income and payroll taxes.
Belair will forfeit $3.2 and Penzara will pay restitution of nearly $1 million. No date was set for sentencing.
Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog. She can be reached here.

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