A money laundering conviction under 18 U.S.C.S. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) requires proof of the defendant's knowledge of two separate facts: (1) that the funds involved in the transaction were the proceeds of illegal activity; and (2) that the transaction was designed to conceal the nature of the proceeds.
In the summer of 1989, Ellen Campbell was a licensed real estate agent working at Lake Norman Realty in Mooresville, North Carolina. During the same period, Mark Lawing was a drug dealer in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Lawing decided to buy a house on Lake Norman. He obtained Campbell's business card from Lake Norman Realty's Mooresville office, called Campbell, and scheduled an appointment to look at houses. Over the course of about five weeks, Lawing met with Campbell approximately once a week and looked at a total of ten to twelve houses. Lawing represented himself to Campbell as the owner of a legitimate business, L & N Autocraft, which purportedly performed automobile customizing services. Lawing eventually settled upon a house listed for $ 191,000 and owned by Edward and Nancy Guy Fortier. The listing with the Fortiers had been secured by Sara Fox, another real estate agent with Lake Norman Realty. After negotiations, Lawing and the Fortiers agreed on a price of $ 182,500, and entered into a written contract. Lawing was unable to secure a loan and decided to ask the Fortiers to accept $ 60,000 under the table in cash and to lower the contract price to $ 122,500. Lawing contacted Campbell and informed her of this proposal. The Fortiers agreed, and Fox had the Fortiers execute a new listing agreement which lowered the sales price and increased the commission percentage in order to protect the realtors' profits on the sale. Campbell was indicted on a three count indictment alleging: 1) money laundering, 2) engaging in a transaction in criminally derived property, and 3) causing a false statement (the HUD-1 form) to be filed with a government agency. She was tried and convicted by a jury on all three counts. After the verdict, the district court granted Campbell's motion for judgment of acquittal with respect to the money laundering and transaction in criminally derived property counts. The district court also conditionally ordered a new trial on these counts if the judgment of acquittal was reversed on appeal. The Government appealed.
Did the district court err in granting Campbell’s motion for judgment of acquittal?
The appellate court reversed the district court’s decision, holding that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to have found that Campbell knew that the funds were the proceeds of illegal activity, and that the transaction was designed to disguise the nature of those proceeds. The appellate court ruled that the district court erred as to the elements of the offense. According to the court, the government only had to show that Campbell knew that the transaction was designed to conceal illegal proceeds, not that her purpose was to conceal, and that the funds were proceeds of unlawful activity, not that she knew of the drug dealer's activities. The trial court made an impermissible judgment on witness credibility; in ruling on the motion for judgment of acquittal, it should have weighed Campbell's statement that the funds "might have been drug money" most favorably to the government. The court held that the evidence of her lifestyle, the "might have been drug money" statement, and the fraudulent nature of the transaction were sufficient to create a question for the jury.