FinCEN slams Oaks Card Club with $650K fine

Published On December 26, 2015 | By Rob Arias | Crime & Public Safety, News & Commentary

The US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced a settlement with and assessment against the Oaks Card Club gaming establishment. Oaks admitted that it violated the program and reporting requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

Oaks was raided back in 2011 by federal law enforcement officials and charged with structuring monetary transactions to avoid detection. “Just because they’re not a multi-billion dollar casino, doesn’t mean they still can’t follow” anti-money laundering rules, noted an anti-money laundering and financial crimes expert Micah Willbrand in this Wall Street Journal report.

Different law enforcement agencies enter the Oaks Club in Emeryville, Calif. during a raid that started at around 6:00 a.m., shutting the card club down on Wednesday March 2, 2011. Patrons of the club and staff were searched for any weapons and interviewed during the raid according to one patron, Don Ramos, who was having breakfast at the club when police entered. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

Oaks was raided back in March, 2011. (Photo: MercuryNews.com)

The settlement and FinCEN’s assessment requires Oaks to pay a fine of $650,000 for willful violations of the BSA. Among its failures, Oaks relied on an inaccurate and misleading anti-money laundering (AML) policy to train its staff. The AML policy failed to provide instructions, or provided wrong instructions, concerning the card club’s BSA obligations and filing of BSA reports. For example, it encouraged employees to provide notice to patrons if they were about to conduct a cash transaction that would put them over the $10,000 threshold for the filing of a Currency Transaction Report, thereby possibly encouraging structured transactions. The policy also lacked instructions on when an employee should file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). The Oaks filed no SARs in 2009 and 2010.

The United States Attorney for the Northern District of California brought criminal charges against several Oaks employees and patrons after a March 2011 raid by state and federal law enforcement. Despite this, Oaks failed to file any SARs related to the criminal activity on its premises, including making illegal loans and racketeering.

“Oaks Card Club has been in business since 1896, and had been subject to the Bank Secrecy Act for quite some time,” said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. “That should have allowed enough time to become very familiar with what’s right and what’s wrong. As we often see, these penalties could have been avoided through even minimal attention to their anti-money laundering requirements.”

Director Shasky Calvery expressed her appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California for their efforts and support of FinCEN’s investigation.

FinCEN defines its mission as to “safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and strategic use of financial authorities.”

Oaks, like other “card club” gaming establishments, distinguishes itself from Casinos by only offering card games (They have no Slot Machines, Roulette or other popular Casino games). Players play against each other and not against the “House.” Like casinos, card clubs are defined as financial institutions under the BSA and are subject to FinCEN’s rules.

Oaks has been in Emeryville since 1896 (the same year Emeryville was incorporated). Oaks’ tax contributions comprises an estimated 8 percent of the city’s annual budget.

Read More on The Wall Street Journal (Subscription required)

Read the Press Release on FinCEN.gov

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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