Money laundering statutes make it a crime to transfer money derived from almost any criminal activity (including organized crime, white-collar offenses, and drug transactions) into seemingly legitimate channels, in an attempt to disguise the origin of the funds. Money laundering occurs whenever a person attempts to conceal the source, destination, or identity of illegally obtained or acquired money. Money laundering is criminalized under both state and federal laws.
Money laundering applies when a person attempts to conceal illegally obtained funds, but it doesn’t include merely spending money. If, for example, you make $1,000 selling stolen goods and then go out and buy something, you have not laundered any money. Though you have committed the crime of dealing in stolen goods, to be convicted of money laundering you’d need to try to conceal or disguise where the money originated, or otherwise disguise it.
The Supreme Court has ruled that in order to prove federal money laundering charges, prosecutors must show a person concealed money specifically to conceal the location, ownership, source, nature, or control of the money. It isn’t money laundering, for example, to try to conceal money during transportation by putting it in a hidden place. Laundering would involve taking that money and trying to make it appear as if it came from a legitimate source.