The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the government in two money laundering cases, making it more difficult for prosecutors to use an important weapon in the war on drugs and organized crime.
In a unanimous decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said that a money laundering case cannot be proven merely by showing that funds were concealed while being transported.
In a separate 5-4 decision, the court said that money laundering refers to profits of an illegal operation, not gross receipts. The court's interpretation is a narrow one opposed by law enforcement agencies.
Justice Antonin Scalia said the narrow definition will not unduly burden authorities, who must show only that a single instance of unlawful activity was profitable.
Providing the crucial tie-breaking vote, Justice John Paul Stevens refused to go as far as Scalia, saying Congress favored a broader interpretation of the law in cases involving the operation of organized crime syndicates.