The concept of a mule is a well-known one, especially in Border states. But some people who travel to other countries and up tricked by others with nefarious intentions into bringing illegal items across the border. What seems like an innocent item might actually contain drugs or other materials that someone cannot lawfully transport into the United States.
Law enforcement agencies have since expanded on the idea of a mule, as there are many ways in which organized criminals might seek to take advantage of those with good intentions. While money laundering often seems like a highly organized and intentional act, individuals and businesses implicated in a money laundering ring may have had no true criminal intentions.
Instead, the business or person implicated is merely a money mule utilized by those engaged in criminal activity.
How do people become money mules?
You run a small shop that depends on repeat business from people in the neighborhood. One of your regular customers starts asking for prepaid credit cards so that they can make purchases online because all they have are cash or they want to send cash to someone elsewhere without providing many details about themselves.
Offering such services seems like a great way for your store to make some money in a situation where otherwise you would have no part in the transaction. However, the individual in question and many others start buying multiple cards a week or sending hundreds of dollars at a time. It may become a major source of revenue for your business, which seems very positive.
That is, until investigators show up and accuse you of helping those reselling stolen merchandise or running a prostitution ring to hide the source of their money. Money mules often simply offer services to others while expecting that the other party will act in good faith. They end up falling victim to their own naivete and to the criminal intentions of other people.
Technical participation does not necessarily make you a criminal
While you may have transferred money for individuals who wanted to make ill-gotten funds look legitimate, you did not understand that that was their intention. You only wanted to offer a service to the community that would help your business continue generating profit and bringing people into your facilities.
The burden of proof will be on the prosecutor to establish that you intentionally profited off of criminal activity and helped others hide the origins of their resources. There are numerous other ways in which someone could end up implicated in a money laundering scheme without ever intending to break the law or realizing what the other people involved had done.
Discussing the situation that led to your white-collar criminal charges with someone familiar with the law can help you look into defense strategies for court.