In the case of United States v. Oliveira, No. 22-2102 (7th Cir. Mar. 20, 2023), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's sentence of Sinval De Oliveira to 60 months' imprisonment for one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The case began in late 2020 when an unknown person convinced a manager at a Walmart store in Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, to remove $242,980 in cash to satisfy a fraudulent shipping invoice. The cash was delivered to brothers Mario and Moises Amezcua-Cardenas, who then brought the cash to De Oliveira at a hotel in Milwaukee. De Oliveira deposited the funds into a bank account through 42 separate ATM cash deposits across Wisconsin.
De Oliveira was arrested in Illinois in April 2021. At the time of his arrest, he had $70,000 in cash, a ledger, and numerous bank receipts from ten states showing cash deposits totaling $5.1 million made between December 2020 and April 2021. His ledger contained an accounting of the Wisconsin theft, including notes about a Milwaukee hotel stay. De Oliveira explained to police that he was involved with trading Bitcoin on behalf of a company.
In September 2021, the grand jury indicted De Oliveira for conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was arrested again in North Carolina, this time with $4,000 cash, more ATM receipts, and another ledger showing that he had deposited $7.9 million since his previous arrest. He again told the agents that he traveled the country as a "bitcoin broker," picking up and depositing money into bank accounts. He denied knowing where the cash came from, though he admitted the source was a "grey area" of operation and speculated it could be from Mexican politicians or drug cartels.
De Oliveira pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering of the proceeds of a wire fraud scheme. The presentence investigation report (PSR) calculated a guidelines range of 87 to 108 months' imprisonment, based on a total offense level of 28 and a criminal-history category of II. The base offense level was 7, and increased by 18 levels based on a loss of more than $5 million. This loss amount included the $5.1 million in deposits that was reflected in the ledger found during De Oliveira's first arrest. De Oliveira objected to the loss amount, arguing the court should only consider the proceeds of the Wisconsin theft because the government had not proved any other specific criminal act.
The court overruled his objections and concluded that the preponderance of the evidence showed that De Oliveira continued participating in the money laundering conspiracy after the Wisconsin theft by traveling to multiple states and depositing large amounts of cash. The court discussed the parties' aggravating and mitigating arguments and imposed a below-guidelines sentence of 60 months' imprisonment.
On appeal, De Oliveira challenged the loss amount calculation and the resulting 18-level increase to the offense level. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that the court did not commit clear error in its loss calculation.
De Oliveira argues that the government did not meet its burden of proving that the $5.1 million was relevant conduct because it did not link those funds to any specific unlawful acts. But the law does not require this. Because De Oliveira pled guilty to a conspiracy to launder money, the guidelines attribute all reasonably foreseeable unlawful activity taken in furtherance of the conspiracy to his loss amount. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3(a)(1). In a conspiracy case, the government is not required to trace each dollar to a specific instance of money laundering. Baker, 227 F.3d at 966, see United States v. Gabel, 85 F.3d 1217, 1224 (7th Cir. 1996). In other words, while Oliveira's substantive charge of money laundering is limited to financial transactions tied to a "specified unlawful activity," 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1), his loss amount at sentencing includes any unlawful activity that was reasonably foreseeable and taken in furtherance of the money laundering scheme, so long as it can be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. See Baker, 227 F.3d at 965 (money not linked to any particular transaction but used to facilitate and "bank roll" a money laundering scheme was properly included in the loss amount at sentencing).
United States v. Oliveira, No. 22-2102, at *3-4 (7th Cir. Mar. 20, 2023)
The court found that the $5.1 million in deposits was part of the same money laundering scheme or plan to conceal wire fraud as the losses created by the Walmart theft. Therefore, it was not clear error for the court to find that the $5.1 million reflected illegal activity related to De Oliveira's offense of conviction and include it in the loss amount calculation.