Eleventh Circuit Holds Bank Accounts Containing Commingled Criminal, Non-Criminal Funds Are Not Subject To Forfeiture As “Proceeds” Of The Crime

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On June 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that bank accounts in which funds traceable to the defendant’s criminal activity were commingled with funds unrelated to such activity were not subject to forfeiture as “proceeds” of the criminal activity. In re Rothstein, Rosenfeldt, Adler, P.A., 2013 WL 2494980, No. 11-10676 (11th Cir. June 12, 2013). The defendant pleaded guilty to violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by using his law firm to perpetrate a Ponzi scheme over a four-year period. Funds traceable to the criminal activity were deposited in the law firm’s bank accounts, where they were commingled with funds earned from the law firm’s substantial legitimate activities. The trustee of the law firm’s bankruptcy estate appealed a trial court order granting the government’s request that the firm’s bank accounts be forfeited as the “proceeds” of the criminal activity. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, noting that the government must establish the “requisite nexus between the property and the offense,” which requires that the tainted and untainted property be distinguishable “without difficulty.” The government was unable to clearly distinguish between the tainted and untainted funds, in part because of the size and number of transactions in the bank accounts. Because the government could not establish that the bank accounts were the proceeds of the criminal activity, the court remanded to allow the government to pursue forfeiture of “substitute assets.”