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Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Money Laundering Conviction Involving Drug Deal; Evidence Insufficient On a Second Conviction

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld one conviction of a defendant for money laundering charges stemming from a drug deal.  However, the Court reversed a second conviction, holding that acceptance of payment for fronted drugs, standing alone, was not sufficient to uphold that conviction.

A Davidson County man, Robert Jason Allison, conducted drug deals with a confidential informant in 2009.  Mr. Allison delivered marijuana to the informant on two occasions.  On each occasion, Mr. Allison received payment for a portion of marijuana he provided, but he also “fronted” additional marijuana to the informant, expecting to be paid once the informant sold that marijuana to others.  Mr. Allison later accepted payment for the fronted marijuana on two separate occasions.  A jury convicted him of two counts of delivery of marijuana and two counts of “promotional” money laundering.  Promotional money laundering refers to financial transactions or other dispositions involving criminally derived proceeds done with the intent to promote the carrying on of unlawful activity.  Mr. Allison appealed, arguing that the evidence showed only two transactions for the sale of marijuana rather than additional separate offenses for money laundering.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Mr. Allison’s two convictions for money laundering.  The intermediate appellate court held that the act of accepting payment for the fronted marijuana, under circumstances indicating that Mr. Allison was in the business of selling drugs and intended to purchase additional marijuana, was sufficient proof to support Mr. Allison’s money laundering convictions.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Mr. Allison’s request for permission to appeal.

In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court determined that the evidence was sufficient to support one of Mr. Allison’s money laundering convictions.  For that conviction, the proof permitted the jury to reasonably conclude that Mr. Allison not only accepted payment for the fronted marijuana but also used the proceeds at issue to purchase additional marijuana with the intent to promote future sales.  For the other conviction, however, the proof demonstrated that Mr. Allison, at the time of his arrest, had not purchased additional drugs with the particular proceeds he was paid by the informant for the fronted marijuana and, in fact, was still in possession of most of the proceeds.  Therefore, the Court held that Mr. Allison had not conducted a financial transaction or made other disposition involving the proceeds in question within the meaning of the statute defining promotional money laundering.

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in State v. Robert Jason Allison, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.