Today’s Auditing Moment: Rental Real Estate Transactions and Money Laundering. (Part 1)

CPAs that perform audits of financial statements under the Codified Generally Accepted Auditing Standards are typically well versed in the standards and practices detailed therein but to the extent continuing education on the topic of auditing often focuses on notable audit failures such as those involving ENRON and Mississippi’s own WorldCom along with a host of others dating back to the 1920s the study of what went wrong is both natural and needed.  Out of the ENRON and WorldCom disasters came a host of new auditing standards. I particularly thought the AICPA did a good job with AU Sections 314, 316 and 317 which deal with understanding the entity in question, and the risks associated with the entity including fraud and illegal acts.

Today, the realities of the post Katrina Mississippi coast is the growth of the rental real estate in terms of sheer number of units, often built solely as a result of post Katrina taxpayer subsidies.  The number of units constructed has resulted in a market overcapacity and that in turn impacts the monthly price of the rentals.  With insurance sky high the top and bottom line squeeze on the owners of the units can lead to pressure to do some very unsavory things. Let’s begin with the National Association of Realtors Anti Money Laundering page:

The crime of money laundering continues to be a growing area of concern in the United States. Therefore, law enforcement agencies and the financial sector devote considerable time and resources to combatting these illegal financial activities. However, many non-financial businesses and professions are also vulnerable to potential money laundering schemes.

Real estate professionals are a category of the non-financial business sector that may encounter persons engaging in money laundering activities. The purpose of this fact sheet and suggested voluntary guidelines is to increase real estate professionals’ awareness, knowledge, and understanding of the potential money laundering risks surrounding real estate and enable them to identify practical measures to mitigate the risks.

It is at this point that I’ll observe that while most people understand the concept of money laundering in a general sense they do not understand the specific elements so here it the skinny:

The actual process of money laundering is a three step process that is initiated by introducing the illegal proceeds into the financial system, e.g., breaking up large amounts into small deposits or by purchasing financial instruments, such as money orders, which is referred to as placement. This is typically followed by distancing the illegal proceeds from the source of the funds through layers of financial transactions, referred to as layering, and finally by returning the illegally derived proceeds to the criminal from what appears to be a legitimate source, known as integration.

So there we have it folks, money laundering is a three step process defined by 1. Placement 2. Layering and 3. Integration but this is different from the legal definition of the crime of money laundering. Here in the US, I find the FBI primer page on the topic to be very useful because in the US the crime of money laundering is just a 2 step process: Continue reading “Today’s Auditing Moment: Rental Real Estate Transactions and Money Laundering. (Part 1)”