Cuellar was convicted of charged with and convicted of the concealment prong of the international money-laundering law, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(B)(i). This part of the federal money laundering law prohibits a person from transporting or attempting to transport illicit funds from a place inside the United States to a place outside the United States, knowing that such transportation is designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership or control of those proceeds. Cuellar was stopped while driving in Texas; the police who searched his car found $63,000 in cash hidden in the car. On appeal, Cuellar argued that a conviction under § 1956 requires proof that the defendant’s acts created the appearance of legitimate wealth or converted dirty money into clean.
A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court overturned his conviction, but that Court granted en banc review and upheld the conviction. The Fifth Circuit held that, although creating the appearance of legitimate wealth is one way of concealing illicit funds, it is not the only way that concealment can be established; Congress used the broad, unqualified word “conceal” in the statute and did not intend to prohibit concealment only if it is accomplished in a certain way.
Whether merely hiding funds with no design to create the appearance of legitimate wealth is sufficient to support a money laundering conviction.