Today, FinCEN announced the assessment of a civil money penalty against a Los Angeles-based Money Services Business (MSB) and its owner for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). During a 2011 examination of the MSB, FinCEN determined that, from October 1, 2010 through the present, the MSB knowingly violated the BSA by failing to (i) establish and ensure ongoing compliance with an adequate AML program; (ii) provide adequate training; and (iii) conduct independent testing of its compliance program. In addition, the MSB violated the BSA’s reporting requirements by failing to “file required currency transaction reports (“CTRs”) on all of its reportable transactions during the examination scope period,” and continued to file untimely CTRs even after the examination scope period ended on March 31, 2011. Finally, FinCEN expressed concern over the MSB owner’s failure to disclose that the MSB “frequently exchanged check for cash with another MSB, an arrangement known as ‘wholesaling’ or ‘bulk check cashing.’” According to the assessment document, the MSB’s owner, who was also the designated AML compliance officer, participated in the BSA violations by failing to accept his responsibility to “ensure that [an] AML program was in place, was effective, and was followed.” To resolve FinCEN’s allegations, the MSB and its owner admitted to violating the BSA program and its reporting requirements and will pay a civil money penalty of $60,000.
OCC Releases Semiannual Report Highlighting Key Risks Facing National Banks and Federal Savings Associations
Today, the OCC announced the release of its semiannual report, Semiannual Risk Perspective for Spring 2015, highlighting key risk areas affecting national banks and federal savings associations. Based on 2014 year-end data, the report identifies issues that pose a potential threat to the safety and soundness of banks and thrifts. It also sets forth the OCC’s supervisory priorities for the next 12 months, including, among others, (i) cybersecurity awareness and preventative controls, (ii) Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance, (iii) fair access to credit, and (iv) underwriting practices, particularly with respect to leveraged loans, indirect auto lending, HELOCs, and credit related to the oil and gas sector. The report also notes declining revenues and profitability overall in OCC-supervised institutions.
On June 23, the Board of Governors announced the execution of an enforcement action against a California-based community bank over BSA/AML deficiencies. According to the Cease and Desist Order, the deficiencies were identified by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the California Department of Business Oversight, and directs the Bank to submit written plans outlining their efforts to strengthen their BSA/AML risk management program, including customer due-diligence and suspicious activity monitoring and reporting policies and procedures. In addition, the Bank must retain an independent third party to conduct a review of account and transaction activity affiliated with any high-risk customer and foreign branch accounts conducted at, by, or through the Bank from July 2014 through December 2014. No civil money penalty was imposed on the Bank.
On June 15, FinCEN announced a $4.5 million civil money penalty against a West Virginia-based bank for alleged violations of the BSA from 2008 through 2013. According to the Assessment of Civil Money Penalty, the bank failed to monitor, detect, and report suspicious activity as a result of an inadequate AML and customer due diligence program, ultimately allowing over $9.2 million in structured and otherwise suspicious cash transactions to pass though the financial institution unreported. FinCEN found that the bank failed to establish and maintain an AML program that provided, at a minimum: (i) a system of internal controls to ensure ongoing compliance; (ii) a designated individual or individuals responsible for coordinating and monitoring day-to-day compliance; (iii) independent testing for compliance to be conducted by either an outside party or bank personnel; and (iv) training for appropriate personnel. FinCEN’s enforcement action and $4.5 million civil money penalty against the bank is concurrent with a $3.5 million penalty imposed by the FDIC, of which $2.2 million is concurrent with a forfeiture pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.
On June 3, FinCEN announced a $75 million civil money penalty against an international casino for alleged “willful and egregious” violations of the BSA. As detailed in the Assessment, the casino (i) failed to develop and implement an AML program; (ii) failed to designate an official BSA officer to oversee compliance requirements of the BSA; and (iii) failed to train employees in adequate recordkeeping, or in identifying, monitoring or reporting suspicious activity – all considered to be critical components of an adequate BSA/AML program. Moreover, FinCen alleges that casino employees “provided detailed instructions” to undercover agents on how to conduct transactions without being properly reported to U.S. authorities. FinCen’s latest action follows a March announcement, when the agency imposed a $10 million civil money penalty against a New Jersey-based casino.
On June 1, a Boston-based international financial services holding company and its banking subsidiary agreed to address deficiencies in how they manage compliance risks with respect to their BSA/AML compliance program. The Agreement, entered into with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Massachusetts Division of Banks, requires both entities to submit a written plan outlining their efforts to improve their compliance with OFAC and internal controls, customer due-diligence procedures, and suspicious activity monitoring and reporting, among other things. In addition, the banking subsidiary must hire an independent third-party to review account and transaction activity during a specified period to ensure suspicious activity was properly identified and reported.
In a separate enforcement action, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago entered into an agreement on May 26 with an Illinois-based financial services company, requiring the parent company and its banking subsidiary to, among other things, submit written plans to (i) strengthen its BSA/AML compliance risk management program; and (ii) “ensure the identification and timely, accurate, and complete reporting” of suspicious transactions to the appropriate law enforcement and supervisory [banking] authorities.” No civil money penalties were imposed in either enforcement action.
FinCEN Fines Michigan MSB For BSA/AML Violations, Bans Owner From Serving at Any U.S. Financial Institution
On May 29, a Michigan-based money service business (MSB), along with its owner, admitted to repeated violations of the BSA and have agreed to pay FinCEN a civil money penalty in the amount of $12,000. The company violated the BSA in numerous ways, including but not limited to: (i) failing to maintain a sufficient anti-money laundering program; (ii) engaging in high-risk transactions, including wire transfers to Yemen, totaling millions of dollars, without keeping proper records of the transfers or performing due diligence; and (iii) conducting suspicious transactions “with no apparent business or lawful purpose.” According to FinCEN, the MSB failed to monitor the suspicious transactions, had no review process in place, and neglected to file a Suspicious Activity Report or a Currency Transaction Report while operating as a business entity. Furthermore, in addition to the aforementioned MSB, the owner opened an additional MSB in October 2010, containing similar BSA deficiencies. The owner has “agreed to immediately and permanently cease serving as an employee, officer, director, or agent of any financial institution located in the United States or that conducts business within the United States.”
BuckleySandler FinCrimes Webinar Series Recap: Best Practices in Customer Due Diligence and Know-Your-Customer
BuckleySandler hosted a webinar, Best Practices in Customer Due Diligence and Know-Your-Customer, on May 21, 2015 as part of their ongoing FinCrimes Webinar Series. Panelists included Eric Arciniega, Senior Manager, BSA/AML Due Diligence Operations at First Republic Bank; Janice Mandac, Global Head of KYC at Goldman Sachs; and Nagib Touma, Director Global AML/KYC at Citi. The following is a summary of the guided conversation moderated by Jamie Parkinson, partner at BuckleySandler LLP, and key take-aways you can implement in your company.
Best Practice Tips and Take-Aways:
- Establishing company-wide/global standards for your company’s customer due diligence and KYC program will help to ensure consistency throughout the organization. But, for global institutions, you must also be able to accommodate jurisdictions with requirements that are more stringent than the global standards.
- Be aware of data privacy standards in the countries where you operate. These standards pose a particular challenge to operating a centralized customer due diligence and KYC program.
- Regulators’ recent focus on model risk management extends to your customer risk rating model. Ensure that your model is being tested and tuned rigorously.
FinCrimes Webinar Series Recap: Conducting an Effective Financial Crimes-Related Internal Investigation
BuckleySandler hosted a webinar, Conducting an Effective Financial Crimes-Related Internal Investigation, on April 23, 2015 as part of their ongoing FinCrimes Webinar Series. Panelists included John Mackessy, Anti-Money Laundering & Trade Sanctions Officer at MasterCard and Saverio Mirarchi, Senior Director at Treliant Risk Advisors and former Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer at Northern Trust. The following is a summary of the guided conversation moderated by Jamie Parkinson, partner at BuckleySandler, and key take-aways you can implement in your company. To request a recording of this webinar, please email Nicole Steckman at email@example.com.
Key Tips and Take-Aways:
- Make sure that the organization has appropriate policies and procedures in place to quickly and efficiently react when an investigation begins.
- Have systems in place to quickly identify the veracity of any allegations and be prepared to begin the internal investigation as soon as possible.
- Be prepared for, and understand the impact of having, a compliance monitor as part of any settlement agreement.
On May 5, a virtual currency company and its subsidiary agreed to pay a $700,000 civil money penalty for violating multiple provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), in which both companies acted as a money service business and seller of virtual currency without properly registering with FinCEN, as well as, failed to implement and maintain an adequate anti-money laundering (AML) program. Furthermore, according to a Statement of Facts and Violations, FinCEN also charged the subsidiary for not filing or untimely filing suspicious activity reports related to several financial transactions. In addition to the civil money penalty, terms of the agreement require both companies to, among other things, (i) engage in remedial steps to ensure future compliance with AML statutory obligations; and (ii) enhance their current internal measures for compliance with the BSA. In a separate DOJ announcement, both companies entered into a settlement agreement to resolve potential criminal charges with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California. Under terms of the DOJ settlement, both companies agreed to forfeit a total of $450,000, which will be credited to satisfy FinCEN’s $700,000 penalty, in exchange for the government not criminally prosecuting the companies for the aforementioned conduct.
On May 6, FinCen Director Jennifer Calvery delivered remarks at the West Coast AML Forum, highlighting the agency’s increased focus to ensure transparency within the U.S. financial system. In her remarks, Calvery addressed concerns about potential money laundering activities in the real estate market, particularly for persons involved in real estate closings and settlements. The continued use of shell companies by criminals to purchase luxury residential real estate is of particular concern. Of note, Calvery referenced prior FinCEN efforts to define the scope of BSA obligations involving real estate closings and settlements, and that it has thus far deferred issuing rules likely to cover settlement and closing attorneys and agents, appraisers, title search and insurance companies, escrow companies, and possibly mortgage servicers and corporate service providers until it better identifies the money laundering risks and activities involved. Calvery also described criminal organizations’ use of third-party money launderers, such as accountants or attorneys, to obtain access to U.S. financial institutions, stating “[FinCEN] cannot permit institutions and their associated [third-party money launderers] to act as gateways to the U.S. financial system for criminal and other bad actors.” Calvery also provided an update on FinCEN’s current efforts to address beneficial ownership and ensure BSA compliance in the virtual currency market using the recent Ripple enforcement action as an example.
On March 16, DOJ Assistant AG Leslie Caldwell delivered remarks at the annual ACAMS anti-money laundering conference regarding the importance of establishing and maintaining robust compliance programs within financial institutions to prevent criminal activity, and recent DOJ enforcement actions taken against financial institutions in the anti-money laundering space. Caldwell outlined the integral parts of an effective compliance program, to include: (i) providing sufficient funding and access to essential resources; (ii) incentivizing compliance and ensuring that disciplinary measures are even handed for low-level and senior employees; and (iii) ensuring that third parties interacting with the institutions understand the institution’s expectations and are serious about compliance management. Caldwell emphasized that the strength of an institution’s compliance program is “an important factor for prosecutors in determining whether to bring charges against a business entity that has engaged in some form of criminal misconduct.” Caldwell highlighted the Criminal Division’s recent actions involving financial fraud and sanctions violations, observing that many have resulted in deferred prosecution agreements or non-prosecution agreements (DPAs and NPAs), enforcement tools the DOJ utilizes in the Criminal Division’s cases. Finally, addressing concerns that the DOJ and other law enforcement authorities have targeted the financial industry for investigation and prosecution, Caldwell stated, “banks and other financial institutions continue to come up on our radar screens because they, and the individuals through which they act, continue to violate the law, maintain ineffective compliance programs or simply turn a blind eye to criminal conduct to preserve profit.”
FinCEN Assesses $75,000 Penalty Against Check Casher Business for Violating Anti-Money Laundering Laws
On March 18, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) assessed a $75,000 civil money penalty against a Colorado check casher and its general manager and ordered it to cease all business activities for “willfully violating” registration, reporting, and anti-money laundering provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The Colorado-based check casher had been the subject of three BSA compliance examinations by the Internal Revenue Service, “all of which found significant and repeated violations.” Under the BSA, money services business are required to implement anti-money laundering controls, conduct internal compliance reviews, and provide compliance training for all staff in an effort to prevent the facilitation of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities. The Colorado check casher failed to employ such programs, which resulted in a significant amount of untimely and inaccurate currency transaction reports.
On March 12, the New York DFS issued a consent order against a Germany-based global bank for alleged Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance violations that occurred between 2002 and 2008. According to the DFS’s press release, certain bank employees were selected “to manually process Iranian transactions — specifically, to strip from SWIFT payment messages any identifying information that could trigger OFAC-related controls and possibly lead to delay or outright rejection of the transaction in the United States.” The DFS also alleges that the bank’s New York branch failed to implement proper BSA/AML compliance thresholds, allowing certain alerts regarding suspicious transactions to be excluded. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank must pay a $1.45 billion penalty, to be distributed as follows: $610 million to the DFS; $300 million to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; $200 million to the Federal Reserve; $172 million to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; and $172 million to the U.S. DOJ. Additionally, the order requires that the bank “terminate individual employees who engaged in misconduct, and install an independent monitor for Banking Law violations in connection with transactions on behalf of Iran, Sudan, and a Japanese corporation that engaged in accounting fraud.”
On March 2, OCC Comptroller Curry delivered remarks before the Institute of International Bankers regarding BSA/AML compliance obligations for financial institutions. During his remarks, Comptroller Curry emphasized that a top priority for the OCC has been to strengthen BSA/AML compliance at its supervised institutions. In this regard, the OCC has (i) modified its bank examination process so that BSA deficiencies receive proper emphasis in the evaluation of safety and soundness; (ii) focused on the BSA/AML risks posed by third-party relationships; (iii) required that institutions adequately resource their BSA/AML compliance programs; (iv) required institutions to assign accountability for BSA/AML compliance across all business lines presenting BSA/AML risk; and (v) taken enforcement action to enforce BSA/AML compliance when appropriate. Through his remarks, Comptroller Curry also addressed the need to improve the BSA/AML regulatory framework itself. Specifically, Comptroller Curry indicated that the OCC wanted (i) to streamline the SAR reporting process, (ii) to find better ways to use technology to advance BSA/AML goals, and (iii) to increase information sharing by creating safe harbors from civil liability both for financial institutions that file SARs and for financial institutions that share information about financial crimes with each other.