If someone gained money illegally but in a way that they were not directly stealing it from someone (such as selling drugs or illegal weapons), and then they give the money away to a friend or relative, does the person they gave it to own it legally or would they be forced to give it to the government if the person who gave it to them was convicted?

  • 1
    This depends on your jurisdiction, and also whether the recipient knew or should have suspected that they were receiving the proceeds of crime. See confiscation and asset forfeiture. Can you clarify your question?
    – sjy
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 22:39
  • @sjy the jurisdiction would be the U.S.A. If it varies state to state then I'm just wondering for most of the states. Assume that the person had not reason to suspect the money was gained illegally.
    – user180969
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 23:04
  • It may be telling to note that Bernie Madoff's (the big Ponzi scheme guy) wife was sued and prevailed able to keep millions, when people came looking for the money he stole. Her millions were the money he stole. I think the best answer here will start with "Its complicated"
    – Jon
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 23:24
  • Under civil forfeiture, the person who gave them the money doesn't even need to be convicted. There just has to be probable cause that the property was involved in a crime.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 0:30
  • Isn't this what happens in Ghost - when Oda Mae (Whoopi Goldberg) gives all the embezzeled money to the nuns? Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 7:32

2 Answers 2


In the United States, Receipt of stolen property is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 2315, defined as knowingly receiving, concealing, or disposing of stolen property with a value of at least $5,000 that also constitutes interstate commerce (i.e., has been transported across state lines).

A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proven:

  • The person received or concealed or stored or disposed of items of stolen property.
  • The items were moving as, or constituted a part of, interstate commerce.
  • The items had a value in excess of $5,000.
  • The person acted knowingly and willfully.
  • The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person either - received, concealed, stored, sold, or disposed of the stolen property.

To be guilty of the offense, a person must know that the property had been stolen, but he need not know that it was moving as, or constituted a part of, interstate commerce. The term "interstate commerce" merely refers to the movement of property from one U.S. state into another; and it is sufficient if the property has recently moved interstate as a result of a transaction or a series of related transactions that have not been fully completed or consummated at the time of the person's acts as alleged.

All US states also have laws regarding receipt of stolen property; however, there usually is no minimum dollar amount in many jurisdictions, and, of course, the requirement in Federal law regarding interstate commerce does not apply. Also, in many states (Ohio, for example), the burden to prove criminal intent is not as stringent or is nonexistent. This means that one can be charged with the crime - usually a minor degree of felony - even if the person did not know the item in question was stolen. In the Ohio case of State v. Awad, the goods did not need to actually be stolen, just represented as such.

Receiving stolen property and possession of stolen property are treated as separate offenses in some jurisdictions. The distinguishing element is when the person knew that the property was stolen. If the person knew that the property was stolen at the time he received it, the crime is receiving stolen property. If the person did not know the property was stolen at the time she received it but found out after receiving possession, the crime is possession of stolen property.

The state must prove that the defendant received or possessed the property for a dishonest purpose. If, for example, the person acquired possession for the purpose of returning the property to its lawful owner, no crime has been committed.

  • 3
    Thanks. I'm wondering more about what happens if the money was not stolen, but was gained through other illegal means and then willfully given to someone. Would the person it was given to have to give up the money to the government?
    – user180969
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 1:00

Usually, the issue arises under state law in the U.S. and the law on that question is not uniform.

Colorado has had one case where its courts held that someone who received cash from a thief was not in possession of stolen property when the thief sold tangible property and gave that person the proceeds, but other states have reached the opposite conclusion and traced cash to its source.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case looked at the question of when cash in the possession of someone facing criminal charges for a white collar crime could have the allegedly stolen funds frozen pending trial so that they could not be used to pay a criminal defense lawyer. That case held that funds traceable to criminal conduct could be frozen, but funds not traceable to criminal conduct could not be frozen. So, for that purpose, at least, the cash proceeds of a crime are treated as ill gotten gains even though they have been converted to cash.

  • Thanks for the answer. I am more looking for what would happen if the funds were not stolen but gained through illegal sales and then given away to someone. Would the person they were given to own the money by law?
    – user180969
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 23:06
  • @user180969 I not sure that the manner that causes the funds to be gained illegally matters as the U.S. Supreme Court case alluded to suggests. A person given money owns it relative to most of the rest of the world, but that doesn't mean that they can't be retrieved by someone in some circumstances.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 4:07

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