Darknet Narcotics Vendors Selling to Thousands of U.S. Residents Accused Of Tax Crimes
Just because a State like California has legalized cannabis you cannot assume that the Feds will not pursue any charges and look to shut down your business. Regardless of what type of business you operate, any business that is involved in such crimes as wire fraud and tax evasion could be subject to criminal prosecution by the Feds.
First Undercover Operation Targeting Darknet Vendors
In a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on June 26, 2018, the Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced the results of a year-long, coordinated national operation that used the first nationwide undercover action to target vendors of illicit goods on the Darknet. Special Agents of the HSI New York Field Division, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, posed as a money launderer on Darknet market sites, exchanging U.S. currency for virtual currency. Through this operation, HSI New York were able to identify numerous vendors of illicit goods, leading to the opening of more than 90 active cases around the country. The Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, working with more than 40 U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country, coordinated the nationwide investigation of over 65 targets, that lead to the arrest and impending prosecution of more than 35 Darknet vendors selling illicit goods and seizure of weapons, drugs and $23.6 million.
HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Benner stated “The Darknet is ever-changing and increasingly more intricate, making locating and targeting those selling illicit items on this platform more complicated. But in this case, HSI special agents were able to walk amongst those in the cyber underworld to find those vendors who sell highly addictive drugs for a profit. The veil has been lifted. HSI has infiltrated the Darknet, and together with its law enforcement partners nationwide, it has proven, once again, that every criminal is within arm’s reach of the law.”
The extensive operation, which culminated in four weeks of more than 100 enforcement actions around the country, resulted in the following:
- Federal arrests of more than 35 Darknet vendors who engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods;
- Execution of 70 search warrants, resulting in the seizure of massive amounts of illegal narcotics, including 333 bottles of liquid synthetic opioids, over 100,000 tramadol pills, 100 grams of fentanyl, more than 24 kilograms of Xanax, and additional seizures of Oxycodone, MDMA, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, and a psychedelic mushroom grow found in a residence;
- Seizure of more than 100 firearms, including handguns, assault rifles, and a grenade launcher;
- Seizure of five vehicles that were purchased with illicit proceeds and/or used to facilitate criminal activity;
- Seizure of more than $3.6 million in U.S. currency and gold bars;
- Seizure of nearly 2,000 Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, with an approximate value of more than $20 million;
- Confiscation of 15 pill presses, which are used to create illegal synthetic opioids; and
- Seizure of Bitcoin mining devices, computer equipment, and vacuum sealers.
18 U.S.C. §1956 – Laundering Of Monetary Instruments
18 U.S.C. § 1956(a) defines three types of criminal conduct: domestic money laundering transactions (§ 1956(a)(1)); international money laundering transactions (§ 1956(a)(2)); and undercover “sting” money laundering transactions (§ 1956(a)(3)). Marijuana-related businesses need to be aware of domestic money laundering transactions (§ 1956(a)(1)).
To be criminally culpable under 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1), a defendant must conduct or attempt to conduct a financial transaction, knowing that the property involved in the financial transaction represents the proceeds of some unlawful activity, and the property must in fact be derived from a specified unlawful activity.
Violations of § 1956 have a maximum potential 20-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine or twice the amount involved in the transaction, whichever is greater. There is also a civil penalty provision in § 1956(b) which may be pursued as a civil cause of action. Under this provision, persons who engage in violations of any of the subsections of 1956(a) are liable to the United States for a civil penalty of not more than the greater of $10,000 or the value of the funds involved in the transaction.
Penalties For Filing A False Income Tax Return Or Under-reporting Income
Failure to report all the money you make is a main reason folks end up facing an IRS auditor. Carelessness on your tax return might get you whacked with a 20% penalty. But that’s nothing compared to the 75% civil penalty for willful tax fraud and possibly facing criminal charges of tax evasion that if convicted could land you in jail.
Criminal Fraud – The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).
The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).
And even if the IRS is not looking to put you in jail, they will be looking to hit you with a big tax bill with hefty penalties.
Civil Fraud – Normally the IRS will impose a negligence penalty of 20% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6662(b)(1) and 6662(b)(2)) but violations of the Internal Revenue Code with the intent to evade income taxes may result in a civil fraud penalty. In lieu of the 20% negligence penalty, the civil fraud penalty is 75% of the underpayment of tax (Code Sec. 6663). The imposition of the Civil Fraud Penalty essentially doubles your liability to the IRS!
What Should You Do?
Although a criminal charge is only an accusation of a crime and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, given the illegal status of cannabis under Federal law you need to protect yourself and your marijuana business from all challenges created by the U.S. government. While cannabis is legal in California, that is not enough to protect you. It’s coming down that the biggest risk is TAXES. So it is best to be proactive and engage an experienced board certified tax attorney-CPA in your area. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and other California locations protect you and maximize your net profits.