Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara informed attendees at a recent Anti-Money Laundering Risk Management Conference in New York that enforcement of the anti-money laundering (“AML”) laws are a top priority for his office.  Bharara stated, I can promise. . . financial institutions need to take [the BSA] seriously because we are deadly serious about enforcing it,” and vowed to continue the fight against complicity by financial institutions in money laundering activities of their customers.  Acting assistant attorney general Mythili Raman, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, apparently agrees with Bharara.  She recently told the Wall Street Journal:   “I think [financial institutions] still need to do more.  It’s not as if our enforcement actions are over.  There’s more to come, and that suggests to me that there are still banks that haven’t gotten the message.”

As has been well-publicized, at least some financial institutions have gotten into trouble with DOJ for willfully failing to establish or maintain  effective AML programs (including failing to enact adequate policies, procedures, and controls to ensure that information about the Bank’s clients obtained through other lines of business – or outside the U.S. – was shared with compliance and AML personnel); and/or for willfully failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”).  The takeaway for financial institutions: review and strengthen their existing AML and BSA compliance programs, eliminate silos and facilitate communication of AML concerns between business groups, conduct AML training for its compliance officers and other key employees, engage in appropriate levels of due diligence with respect to its customers, and scrupulously adhere to the requirements of the BSA (including as it relates to SARs reporting).  Failure to invest resources now could end up costing financial institutions much more later should DOJ come knocking.