The Supreme court dealt with the issue of “structuring” in 1994 in “Ratzlaf v. United States” but surprisingly avoided the term “smurfing.” Clearly an omission on their part:
On the evening of October 20, 1988, defendant petitioner Waldemar Ratzlaf ran up a debt of $160,000 playing blackjack at the High Sierra Casino in Reno, Nevada. The casino gave him one week to pay. On the due date, Ratzlaf returned to the casino with cash of $100,000 in hand. A casino official informed Ratzlaf that all transactions involving more than $10,000 in cash had to be reported to state and federal authorities. The official added that the casino could accept a cashier’s check for the full amount due without triggering any reporting requirement. The casino helpfully placed a limousine at Ratzlaf’s disposal, and assigned an employee to accompany him to banks in the vicinity. Informed that banks, too, are required to report cash transactions in excess of $10,000, Ratzlaf purchased cashier’s checks, each for less than $10,000 and each from a different bank. He delivered these checks to the High Sierra Casino.
Based on this endeavor, Ratzlaf was charged with “structuring transactions” to evade the banks’ obligation to report cash transactions exceeding $10,000; this conduct, the indictment alleged, violated 31 U.S.C. §§ 5322(a) and 5324(3). The trial judge instructed the jury that the Government had to prove defendant’s knowledge of the banks’ reporting obligation and his attempt to evade that obligation, but did not have to prove defendant knew the structuring was unlawful. Ratzlaf was convicted, fined, and sentenced to prison. [n.2]
Ratzlaf maintained on appeal that he could not be convicted of “willfully violating” the antistructuring law solely on the basis of his knowledge that a financial institution must report currency transactions in excess of $10,000 and his intention to avoid such reporting. To gain a conviction for “willful” conduct, he asserted, the Government must prove he was aware of the illegality of the “structuring” in which he engaged. The Ninth Circuit upheld the trial court’s construction of the legislation and affirmed Ratzlaf’s conviction. 976 F. 2d 1280 (1992). We granted certiorari, 507 U. S. ___ (1993), and now conclude that, to give effect to the statutory “willfulness” specification, the Government had to prove Ratzlaf knew the structuring he undertook was unlawful. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Congress enacted the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act (Bank Secrecy Act) in 1970, Pub. L. 91-2508, Tit. II, 84 Stat. 1118, in response to increasing use of banks and other institutions as financial intermediaries by persons engaged in criminal activity. The Act imposes a variety of reporting requirements on individuals and institutions regarding foreign and domestic financial transactions. See 31 U.S.C. §§ 5311-5325. The reporting requirement relevant here, § 5313(a), applies to domestic financial transactions. Section 5313(a) reads:
But Justice Blackmun got off a pretty good pun in his dissent:
The petitioner in this case was informed by casino officials that a transaction involving more than $10,000 in cash must be reported, was informed by the various banks he visited that banks are required to report cash transactions in excess of $10,000, and then purchased $76,000 in cashier’s checks, each for less than $10,000 and each from a different bank. Petitioner Ratzlaf, obviously not a person of limited intelligence, was anything but uncomprehending as he travelled from bank to bank converting his bag of cash to cashier’s checks in $9,500 bundles. I am convinced that his actions constituted a “willful” violation of the antistructuring provision embodied in 31 U.S.C. § 5324. As a result of today’s decision, Waldemar Ratzlaf--to use an old phrase--will be ”laughing all the way to the bank.”
The majority’s interpretation of the antistructuring provision is at odds with the statutory text, the intent of Congress, and the fundamental principle that knowledge of illegality is not required for a criminal act. Now Congress must try again to fill a hole it rightly felt it had filled before. I dissent.