Criminal & civil penalties for monetary instrument reporting violations

Although it may also be applicable to other aspects law on records and reports of monetary transactions, this question and answer article is designed to answer frequently asked rudimentary questions about currency seizures that occur at the U.S. border for failing to report monetary instruments in excess of $10,000. It should be understood in the context of the other series of articles written on this topic and made available on this site.

Is failing to report transportation of more than $10,000 in monetary instruments a crime?

In short, yes. There are criminal and civil penalties for violations, but not all persons are charged with criminal violations. You can be charged with one or the other, or both civil and criminal violations, as well as forfeiture of your monetary instruments.

What are the criminal penalties?

Failing to make a report or omitting or misstating a material fact in a report potentially brings with it criminal penalties. That includes, depending on the severity of the violation, a fine ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and/or imprisonment from five to ten years.

What are the civil penalties?

Failing to make a report or omitting or misstating a material fact in a report brings with it civil penalty not “more than the amount of the monetary instrument for which the report was required.” Any civil penalty assessed for a violation of failing to report currency at the border is reduced by the amount of money that was forfeited.

What about structuring a transaction to avoid filing a report?

Structuring a transaction to avoid filing the required report is illegal. The relevant law makes it illegal, when importing or exporting more than $10,000 in monetary instruments,  to:

(1) fail to file a report . . . , or cause or attempt to cause a person to fail to file such a report;
(2) file or cause or attempt to cause a person to file a report required . . . that contains a material omission or misstatement of fact; or
(3) structure or assist in structuring, or attempt to structure or assist in structuring, any importation or exportation of monetary instruments.

If you do any of the immediately above, you will be be fined and/or imprisoned for no more 5 years. There are additional, higher penalties when done as “a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period.

In addition to the criminal penalties for a structured transaction violation, there are also civil penalties. 31 USC 5321. The amount of the civil penalty will not be greater than the amount involved in the transaction, and that amount shall be reduced by the amount of any monetary instruments forfeited.

Will the civil penalty stay on my record?

If you are not criminally charged it is not something that will be on your criminal record.  Customs, however, will always have a record when you cross the border that you were transporting currency and failed to file a report. This will, in all likelihood, mean that you will at some point while crossing the border be questioned about whether or not you have currency or have your baggage examined. There is nothing that can be done to avoid that.

If you have had cash seized by customs and are contemplating what to do next, please make use of the other information available on this website or call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist with cash seized by customs around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and many other places, and not just locally in Detroit.

Please read these other articles:

  1. Seizure of currency and monetary instruments by U.S. Customs
  2. Seizure for bulk cash smuggling into or out of the U.S.
  3. Structuring currency imports and exports
  4. Is it $10,000 per person?  Under what circumstances is filing a report with Customs for transporting more than $10,000 required?
  5. Criminal & civil penalties for failing to report monetary instrument transportation
  6. Is only cash currency subject to seizure by Customs?
  7. Responding to a Customs currency seizure
  8. How do I get my seized money back?
  9. Getting money seized by U.S. Customs back while staying overseas
  10. How long does it take Customs to decide a petition for a currency/monetary instrument seizure?