On May 22, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a California-based financial institution and its parent company have agreed to forfeit over $97 million to resolve an investigation into alleged Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) violations. The May 18 agreement between the Bank and the DOJ included a Statement of Facts in which the Bank admitted to criminal violations for willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering compliance program with appropriate policies, procedures, and controls to guard against money laundering, as well as willfully failing to file suspicious activity reports (SARs). It further admitted that from at least 2007 until at least 2012, it processed more than 30 million remittance transactions to Mexico with a total value of more than $8.8 billion, but, while its monitoring system issued more than 18,000 alerts involving more than $142 million in potentially suspicious remittance transactions, it conducted fewer than 10 investigations and filed only nine SARs. Notably, the nine SARs covered only 700 transactions totaling overall approximately $341,307. Furthermore, the financial institution recognized that over the same time period it needed to improve its monitoring of its money services businesses’ (MSBs) remittances but failed to provide appropriate staffing and resources, which led to its BSA department being unable to “conduct appropriate transaction monitoring.” This resulted in a failure to file SARs on suspicious remittance transactions. Although the financial institution recognized the need to enhance its monitoring process as early as 2004, it continued to expand its MSB business without adding staffing resources and failed to make necessary improvements to its transaction monitoring controls.
However, the DOJ stated its decision to enter into a non-prosecution agreement with the financial institution was based on evidence of extensive remedial actions. According to the DOJ’s press release, the financial institution devoted significant resources to remediation of its BSA and anti-money laundering (AML) deficiencies, exited its MSB business entirely, and ultimately ceased all banking operations. It was further credited for its cooperation with the DOJ’s criminal investigation by: (i) providing factual presentations; (ii) voluntarily making available foreign-based employees for interviews in the U.S.; (iii) producing foreign documents without implicating foreign data privacy laws; and (iv) collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the DOJ. Under the terms of the agreement, the financial institution and its parent company have agreed to fully cooperate in this and any future DOJ investigations relating to violations of the BSA and AML statutes, as well as report, for a period of one year, any evidence or allegations of such violations. The parent company has also agreed to report to the DOJ “regarding [the] implementation of compliance measures to improve oversight of its subsidiaries’ BSA compliance.”