Recent regulatory developments have compliance officers nationwide very concerned about their jobs and the possible consequences of actions (or inactions) taken while employed for financial institutions. Even when the hiring market for compliance professionals has been very active in recent years, the risks that come with the job cannot be overlooked.
A decision adopted from a federal district court and regulations from the New York State Department of Financial Services finalized on June 30, 2016 and effective January 1, 2017 provide even more reasons for compliance officers at financial institutions to install robust BSA compliance programs in order to avoid personal liability.
In U.S. Department of Treasury v. Haider, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) alleged that MoneyGram’s former chief compliance officer, Thomas Haider, failed to take sufficient actions to terminate, and failed to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) related to transactions he had reason to believe were related to money laundering, fraud, or other illegal activity. FinCEN fined him $1 million and brought action in federal court to collect the fine. Haider sought dismissal of the fine, arguing that the Bank Secrecy Act applies to institutions, not individuals. The court disagreed and denied his motion, reasoning that the Bank Secrecy Act’s civil penalties provision applies to “partners, directors, officers, and employees” of financial institutions. No final disposition has been reached in the case, but the district court’s decision makes clear that FinCEN is empowered to impose personal liability on compliance officers. In addition to a $1 million fine, Haider faces a permanent ban from employment in the financial industry. Under this decision, compliance officers would be personally subject to both civil and criminal liability if their institution’s anti-money laundering compliance programs are incapable of detecting and stopping illicit transactions.