M&T; Bank has been ordered to forfeit $560,000 in drug proceeds laundered through its Perry Hall branch.
The forfeiture was ordered by U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar in the wake of a case in which a teller at that branch collaborated with a member of a drug-trafficking organization in Maryland to convert small-denomination bills into $100 bills without filing required currency transactions reports.
Federal law requires transactions involving more than $10,000 to be reported and filed with the Internal Revenue Service, which did not occur. Such reports allow police to trace the flow of drug money, said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
"Financial institutions face penalties if they accept cash deposits without filing currency transaction reports," Rosenstein said. "The reports allow law enforcement to trace cash deposits by criminals who try to avoid creating a paper trail."
A spokesperson for M&T; Bank said the Buffalo-based company cooperated fully with the investigation.
"Through the cooperation we provided to law enforcement during an investigation into the illegal activities perpetrated by a former employee, we have assisted the U.S. Attorney's office with this prosecution and recovery," said Phil Hosmer, a spokesperson for M&T; Bank, in a statement. "This case shows how banks work closely with law enforcement to prevent and detect money-laundering."
On at least eight occasions between 2011 and 2013, Deanna Bailey, 33, went to the Perry Hall branch and had the head teller, Sabrina Fitts, 29, convert the cash into the larger bills, according to court records. Each of the transactions ranged from $20,000 to $100,000, with most involving more than $50,000.
Fitts accepted a 1 percent transaction fee from Bailey in return for not filing currency transaction reports, according to their plea agreements.
Both Bailey and Fitts pleaded guilty for their roles in the laundering in October. Bredar sentenced Bailey to 46 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. He sentenced Fitts to a month in prison, eight months of home detention and 250 hours of community service, and ordered her to forfeit $5,000 she received for converting the drug proceeds.
An attorney for Bailey declined to comment on the federal charges. She also pleaded guilty to state misdemanor charges of conspiracy to import marijuana into the state and conspiracy to commit second-degree assault.
According to her plea agreement, Bailey was a member of a drug ring that moved at least 500 pounds of marijuana from the "southwestern United States to Maryland for the purpose of distributing it for profit once it arrived."
Neither Fitts nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Buffalo-based M&T; Bank Corp. reported assets of $88.5 billion at the end of March. It operates about 725 branches in states from New York to Virginia.