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People v. Smith

March 24, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. No. 93-CF-120 Honorable Dennis M. Huber, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

On October 19, 1993, a statewide grand jury filed a 40-count indictment naming several defendants involved in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cannabis. Defendant, Larry Smith, was one of these defendants. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of various offenses and was sentenced to concurrent imprisonment terms as follows: calculated criminal drug conspiracy (18 years), criminal drug conspiracy (18 years), narcotics racketeering (15 years), possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to deliver (18 years), unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver (7 years), residential burglary (15 years), unlawful restraint (3 years), unlawful harassment of a witness (3 years), and unlawful structuring of a currency transaction (7 years).

The defendant appeals and raises several issues. We affirm most of his convictions in the unpublished portion of this opinion.

We address defendant's challenge to his conviction for structuring currency transactions to evade recording and reporting requirements of the law. The challenge assails the sufficiency of the proof as well as the jury instructions by which that proof was measured.

We find that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the guilty verdict for unlawful structuring of currency transactions. However, we overturn the verdict and remand for a new trial because the jury was never told of the reporting requirements that those transactions were allegedly structured to evade.

We first consider the sufficiency of the evidence. In considering this type of claim, it is not our duty to resolve factual disputes or assess witness credibility. People v. Bowen, 241 Ill. App. 3d 608, 619, 609 N.E.2d 346, 355 (1993). Where the evidence is not so palpably contrary to the jury's findings or otherwise so unreasonable or unsatisfactory such that defendant's guilt is called into doubt, the jury's finding should be affirmed. People v. Moore, 171 Ill. 2d 74, 94, 662 N.E.2d 1215, 1224 (1996). Proof of intent does not require direct evidence and can be inferred from the surrounding circumstances. People v. Richardson, 104 Ill. 2d 8, 12, 470 N.E.2d 1024, 1026 (1984).

The defendant and his coconspirators acquired large quantities of currency as a by-product of drug dealings. During the conspiracy, the defendant and coconspirators repeatedly entered banks to exchange small denomination bills of currency for $100 bills. On three different occasions, one of which included defendant, members of the conspiracy used the County National Bank of Hillsboro to convert small bills of currency into $100 bills. On another occasion, a conspirator used the First National Bank of Raymond, entering with $2,000 in various denominations and exiting with 20 $100 bills. The Litchfield National Bank was also used on numerous occasions during the same time frame to transact identical currency exchanges. The transactions usually involved only $1,000 at a time.

The defendant admitted that he exchanged small bills of currency for larger ones at a Litchfield bank. He further admitted that he attempted to do the same at a Hillsboro bank. He also acknowledged that other members of the drug conspiracy were exchanging currency at the same time.

Defendant claims that the State failed to establish an intent to evade recording and reporting requirements, a necessary element to the crime of unlawful structuring of currency transactions.

Not all currency transactions must be reported. The statute's command extends only to currency transactions over $10,000 (205 ILCS 685/4 (West 1992)) and the issuance or sale of bank checks, cashier's checks, traveler's checks, or money orders of $3,000 or more (205 ILCS 685/5 (West 1992)). Defendant takes two somewhat contradictory positions with regard to these reporting requirements.

First, defendant suggests that the proof fails because none of the transactions exceed the requirements. Of course, had any of the transactions exceeded the statute's monetary thresholds, the reporting requirement would have been triggered and the financial institution would have ensured the reporting of the transaction. Indeed, had the drug conspirators engaged in transactions large enough to trigger reporting, we might well agree that the evidence falls short of establishing an intent to evade reporting requirements. Such a transaction diminishes the inference that flows from a pattern of currency transactions beneath the reporting monetary thresholds.

The defendant also argues that since the monetary transactions were significantly less than the statute's reporting thresholds, a rational trier of fact could not have concluded that the transactions were engaged in with the requisite intent to evade the reporting that accompanies those thresholds. This argument touches on the flaw in the jury instructions. The amount of the transaction in relationship to the monetary limits for reporting is a valid consideration in determining whether a structured transaction is intended to evade the reporting requirements.

The Currency Reporting Act (Act) (205 ILCS 685/1 et seq. (West 1992)) has a simple design. It tracks cash. The legislature looks to the root of all evil as a simple indicator of evil. It therefore assures that the Director of the State Police stays abreast of people who engage financial institutions in large cash transactions. The statute seeks law enforcement knowledge of cash dealings because "reports and records of transactions involving United States currency *** have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory investigations or proceedings." 205 ILCS 685/2 (West 1992).

In order to safeguard this purpose, the Act outlaws any plan to evade the Act's reporting requirements by the "[s]tructure, assist in structuring, or attempt to structure or assist in structuring any transaction with one or more financial institutions." (Emphasis added.) 205 ILCS 685/7(a)(3) (West 1992). The scope of this edict is indeed broad. Any cash transaction is potentially covered. Notwithstanding, a proper ...

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