California Bar Journal
CBJ - January 2012 #02.
Into the Breach: Voluntary Compliance on Money Laundering Gets a Boost from the ABA and Treasury
The California LawyerJanuary 2012Into the Breach: Voluntary Compliance on Money Laundering Gets a Boost from the ABA and TreasuryBy Michael A. LindenbergerIt was early April 2006, and attorney Scott D. McCreary had an uneasy feeling about the $38.5 million sitting in his firm's escrow account awaiting transfer to the seller of a long-range Gulfstream G-V jet. McCreary, who leads the aviation practice group for McAfee and Taft in Oklahoma City, knew that the owner of the firm seeking to buy the jet was Teodoro Obiang, the son of the dictator who has ruled the small west African state of Equatorial Guinea for more than three decades, and he wanted to know more about the source of that money.
McCreary sent an email to Obiang's agents stating that the firm would return the money unless they could satisfy his misgivings. The documentation he requested was never delivered, and back went the money-all $38.5 million of it.
Obiang, the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation for corruption that includes illegally passing more than $100 million of his country's wealth into the United States, found another escrow agent to handle the transaction, and within two weeks the plane was his.
Nevertheless, McAfee's handling of the matter, despite the lack of any mandatory requirements governing his actions, was hailed as model behavior four years later during a U.S. Senate hearing focusing on how actions-or inactions-by lawyers and other professionals can facilitate illegal money-laundering efforts by international criminals and terrorists. Indeed, the aborted jet deal was exactly the kind of big-dollar transaction by high-risk foreign nationals that the Justice Department, and Congress, want lawyers to do more to prevent in the future.
At the hearing in February 2010, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressed concerns about the role of lawyers and other nonfinancial gatekeepers. "Those engaged in large-scale corruption want access to U.S. banks, and it is our job to stop them, to keep foreign corruption out of the United States," Levin said. "It is not an easy job. With the help of U.S. lawyers, real estate and escrow agents, lobbyists and others, politically powerful...