Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced Kenneth A. Blanco as Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau in Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The leading federal anti-money laundering (AML) regulator, FinCEN’s mission is 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. Mr. Blanco will replace Jamal El-Hindi, who has served as acting FinCEN Director since May 2016, when Jennifer Shasky Calvery resigned as FinCEN Director and joined HSBC.

Mr. Blanco’s appointment as FinCEN Director continues a recent trend of criminal prosecutors departing the Justice Department to join FinCEN’s leadership ranks. Mr. Blanco has been a federal criminal prosecutor for 28 years, most recently serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. During his tenure with the Criminal Division, Mr. Blanco has overseen a number of its sections, including the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (formerly the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, the Organized Crime and Gang Section, and the Child Exploitation Section. Mr. Blanco has supervised many of the Criminal Division’s most significant national and international investigations into illicit finance, money laundering, Bank Secrecy Act, and sanctions violations, including investigations of global financial institutions and money services businesses. Much of his work is in the international banking and financial services area, working and collaborating with international partners in countries such as Mexico, Colombia, and Panama, among others.

Mr. Blanco’s predecessor, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, was appointed FinCEN Director in August 2012, following a 15-year career as a Justice Department prosecutor, where she led the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and also worked in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section prosecuting cases targeting international organized crime groups and particularly the professional money launderers who supported them. Ms. Shasky Calvery, the first career prosecutor ever to lead FinCEN, subsequently recruited many of her former Justice Department colleagues to join her at FinCEN, thereby bringing a decidedly prosecutorial bent to an agency that was historically viewed as primarily a data-gathering institution rather than a law enforcement agency.

Since Ms. Shasky Calvery’s appointment as FinCEN Director in 2012, the agency has advanced a significantly more aggressive enforcement agenda aimed at combating terrorist financing, trade-based money laundering, money laundering through real estate transactions, the use of third-party money launderers, and money laundering through use of virtual currency. FinCEN has also increased substantially its use of Geographic Targeting Orders, a temporary and geographically-limited anti-money laundering device authorized by the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA Patriot Act. This dramatic change-of-direction was no doubt the product of a prosecutorial mindset that Ms. Shasky Calvery and her Justice Department colleagues brought to FinCEN. With the announcement of Mr. Blanco’s appointment as FinCEN Director, another veteran criminal prosecutor is at the agency’s helm, and he will almost certainly continue the rigorous AML enforcement agenda that his predecessor initiated five years ago.