December 18, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence was Sufficient to Prove Money Laundering Convictions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butler on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Money Laundering—Evidence—Jury Instructions—Colorado Organized Crime Control Act—Complicity Theory.

Schaner, through Just Computers, purchased stolen items from individuals and then resold the items. Defendant, who was the assistant manager in charge of the front part of the store, assisted in these transactions. Defendant was convicted of two counts of money laundering and a violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA) based on two predicate acts of money laundering.

On appeal, defendant contended that there was insufficient evidence to support his two convictions of money laundering. The evidence at trial showed that Schaner knew that much of the merchandise he was buying and reselling was acquired illegally and that Schaner’s reselling of the unlawfully obtained goods was designed to conceal the true nature of the ownership of the goods and the money obtained from the sale of the goods. Schaner’s substantial transfers of money to employees’ personal accounts, with the understanding that they would return the money to him in cash, created a strong inference that those transactions were designed to conceal the true source of the goods being sold and the crimes committed. And the commingling of the funds obtained from illegal sources with the funds of the legitimate business operations of Just Computers supports an inference that Schaner was attempting to conceal the true nature of the source of the funds, which was from the stolen merchandise and return cards. Further, there was sufficient evidence to show that defendant intentionally aided, abetted, or encouraged Schaner with the money laundering by purchasing return cards, checking the value of the cards, storing and shipping the cards and merchandise, creating Internet posts advertising the sale of the cards and merchandise, and receiving money transfers from Schaner into his PayPal account and giving cash to Schaner. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence in the record to support defendant’s convictions as a complicitor in Schaner’s money laundering.

In asserting that the evidence was insufficient, defendant further argued that he was not present for the predicate acts and therefore cannot be found guilty based on those transactions. Defendant’s physical absence from any given purchase by Schaner does not negate his culpabiliy for the offenses. There was substantial and sufficient evidence to find that defendant intended to aid, abet, or encourage Schaner to commit money laundering and defendant knew of the circumstances surrounding his complicity in these crimes.

Defendant also asserted that the trial court erred by omitting the statutory definitions in the elemental jury instruction for money laundering. The instruction for money laundering substantially tracked the language of the statute, and the language was clear. Also, the terms “conducts or attempts to conduct a financial transaction,” “financial transaction,” and “transaction” did not take on any technical or particular meanings beyond their ordinary and common understandings and were unlikely to be misunderstood by the jury so as to require further definition. The instructions given adequately informed the jury of the elements of money laundering, and there was no reasonable probability that the jury reached its verdict on money laundering as a result of being improperly instructed. Any imperfections did not rise to the level of plain error.

Lastly, the court of appeals rejected defendant’s assertion that his COCCA conviction must be reversed. Because the evidence was sufficient to support defendant’s money laundering convictions, the prosecution proved the two requisite predicate acts to support defendant’s COCCA conviction.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.