Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salgado: Money Laundering Guideline calculation should not take account of underlying offense

In U.S. v. Salgado, No. 12-15961 (March 14, 2014), the Court reversed a sentence because the district court, in calculating the offense level for a money laundering offense, “mistakenly considered the defendant’s role in the drug conspiracy that generated the dirty money.” Because Salgado was convicted of heroin trafficking and money laundering, his sentence was calculated based on the Guidelines’ grouping rules., which indicated that his sentence should be based on the money laundering guidelines. The Guidelines also provide that when a sentence is calculated based on the money laundering Guidelines, USSG § 2S1.1, other sentence adjustments are based on the Guidelines for that offense, and not for the underlying offense from which the funds were laundered. Despite this instruction, the district court increased the offense level for money laundering based on Salgado’s significant role in the drug trafficking offense. The Court rejected the government’s argument that failing to take account of the fact that a defendant played a significant role in a drug offense when sentencing for money laundering would result in defendants convicted of both crimes receiving lighter sentences than defendants convicted only of the drug offense. The Court pointed out that this was incorrect, because the grouping rules require courts to use the highest offense level of the counts in the group after factoring in sentence adjustments for each count. The Court also rejected the argument that sentencing courts are required to consider “all relevant conduct.” The Court pointed out that the Relevant Conduct Guideline begins with the words “unless otherwise specified.” The Application note with regard to money laundering “does specify otherwise.”