The See-Through LLC: Federal Tracking Of Real Estate Shell Companies Is On The Rise

Seal of the United States Financial Crimes Enf...

In Miami-Dade County and Manhattan, be prepared this year for unprecedented federal oversight in the real estate deal space. Prompted by worries about money laundering, the US Treasury Department has announced it intends to require certain US title companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies that are used to pay all cash for high-end luxury real estate.

While the effort concerns luxury residential property, it serves as a reminder that legal and legitimate structures such as LLCs (limited liability corporations) that are often used to structure commercial property transactions could be facing greater scrutiny, potentially impacting the opacity that entirely legal transactions might seek.

“We are seeking to understand the risk that corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals, may be using premium U.S. real estate to secretly invest millions in dirty money,” said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. “Over the years, our rules have evolved to make the standard mortgage market more transparent and less hospitable to fraud and money laundering. But cash purchases present a more complex gap that we seek to address.”

The New York Times piece by Louise Story on the new federal targeting says:

Real estate is becoming a larger target for law enforcement as well. According to two people with knowledge of cases at the Justice Department, lawyers there have begun to shape cases directly around money laundering in real estate deals rather than adding such transactions to other cases.

The F.B.I. has in recent months created a new unit to focus on money laundering, and real estate will be one main focus. The unit, which has 10 agents, will help the Justice Department delve into shell companies and the people involved in money laundering, F.B.I. officials said.

“We’re going after the facilitators of the money laundering,” Mr. Fallon, of the F.B.I., said. “They’re the bankers, they’re the accountants, lawyers, folks who are setting up L.L.C.s, they are setting up foundations, folks who are setting up nonprofits, real estate investment trusts, etc.”

Read the entire NYT piece here:
U.S. Will Track Secret Buyers of Luxury Real Estate

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