A Cautionary Tale For Money Service Businesses: How Violating The Bank Secrecy Act Could Cost Millions
On February 27, 2017, The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network ("FinCEN") fined Merchants Bank of California ("Merchants") $7 million for what it called "egregious" violations of the Bank Secrecy Act ("BSA"). The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency simultaneously assessed a $1 million civil monetary penalty against Merchants because it violated two previous consent orders. Merchants is a community bank located in Carson City, California. The Bank had a large portfolio of Money Service Businesses ("MSBs") customers. MSBs are generally recognized by federal regulators to include: (1) currency dealers or exchangers; (2) check cashers; (3) issuers of traveler's checks, money orders, or stored value; (4) sellers or redeemers of traveler's checks, money orders, or stored value; and (5) money transmitters. In Merchants' case, it had 165 check-cashing and 44 money-transmitter customers, who often operated at great distances from the Bank. Compounding the situation was the fact that Bank insiders owned or managed a number of the MSB customers.
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