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Money Laundering/ US dollars hung out to dry Money Laundering/ US dollars hung out to dry

Though the popular television series Ozark romanticizes the underlying criminal conduct, money laundering and the manipulation of beneficial ownership are genuine issues confronting lawyers. This was, of course, highlighted in the joint 60 Minutes-Global Witness exposé entitled Lowering the Bar, which aired in 2016. Viewed by 9.3 million people, 60 Minutes effectively demonstrated how New York lawyers implicate themselves, wittingly and unwittingly, in money laundering. This exposé, and the ensuing Grievance Committee investigation that I co-prosecuted while with the First Department, resulted in two public censures. In re Koplik, 168 A.D.3d 163 (1st Dept. 2019); In re Jankoff, 165 A.D.3d 58 (1st Dept. 2018). The real value in the Committee’s investigation flowed, not from the sanctioning of lawyers, but in the identification of unresolved issues. Specifically, issues concerning the lawyer’s evolving practical and ethical role in the financial system and the lack of meaningfully specific obligations needed to avoid potentially violating the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) or worse—federal law. As discussed below, because an escrow account is a conduit for money laundering, lawyers should voluntarily enact due diligence protocols over the provenance of escrow deposits.

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