Image: Leo Tsao

Leo Tsao

Partner, Litigation Department


Leo Tsao is a partner in the Fintech & Payments and Investigations & White Collar Defense practices at Paul Hastings and is based in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. 

Mr. Tsao’s practice focuses on internal corporate investigations, defense of criminal and regulatory enforcement actions, and compliance counseling. Before Paul Hastings, Mr. Tsao served for more than 15 years as a white collar prosecutor with the Department of Justice (DOJ), where he led or supervised many of the DOJ’s most significant corporate cases involving the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and other white collar crimes.

Most recently, Mr. Tsao served as the Principal Deputy Chief of the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS) and as Chief of MLARS’s Bank Integrity Unit. At MLARS, he was responsible for overseeing the DOJ’s enforcement program against financial institutions for BSA, money laundering, and similar violations, including criminal charges, deferred prosecution agreements, and non-prosecution agreements involving financial institutions. In particular, Mr. Tsao helped lead the DOJ’s enforcement efforts with respect to crimes involving cryptocurrency and FinTech companies, and was involved in drafting the DOJ’s Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework. Mr. Tsao has worked in close coordination with many domestic regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Mr. Tsao was also responsible for helping to oversee the DOJ’s national Asset Forfeiture Program.

Before MLARS, Mr. Tsao spent three years as an Assistant Deputy Chief in the Fraud Section’s FCPA Unit and eight years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. While at the DOJ, Mr. Tsao helped develop enforcement policies on corporate investigations, compliance, monitorships, charging decisions, and resolutions. Mr. Tsao has also served as lead trial counsel in 10 criminal trials and has argued and/or briefed numerous criminal appeals. 


  • Assistant Attorney General’s Award, Criminal Division, Distinguished Service Award (2021)


  • Cornell Law School, J.D. (magna cum laude), 1998
  • Rutgers University, B.A., 1992



  • Represented multinational financial institution in investigations by DOJ and other agencies involving alleged violations of U.S. sanctions laws.
  • Represented multinational communications company in investigations by DOJ and SEC involving allegations of FCPA violations.
  • Represented shipping/transport company in connection with criminal and civil investigations related to allegations of violations of U.S. sanctions and export control laws.
  • Represented multinational cryptocurrency company with respect to FinCEN regulatory matters.
  • Represented major U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange in FinCEN and OFAC investigations involving alleged violations of money laundering and U.S. sanctions.
  • Represented Unsecured Creditors Committee in connection with the bankruptcy of a major cryptocurrency exchange and financial services company.
  • Counsel for multinational cryptocurrency exchange in connection with BSA/AML compliance issues.
  • Counsel for multinational money transfer company in connection with BSA/AML compliance issues.
  • Represented former officers and executives of cryptocurrency financial-services company in criminal and civil investigations before DOJ, SEC, CFTC, FTC, and other agencies involving alleged fraud claims.
  • Represented co-founder of major cryptocurrency/payments company in criminal and regulatory investigations involving allegations of fraud.
  • Represented former board members of multinational pharmaceutical company in DOJ investigation related to alleged violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
  • Represented former Finance Chair of the Republic National Committee with respect to civil action filed by DOJ seeking to compel registration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
  • Represented executive of life sciences company in DOJ and SEC investigations involving allegations of FCPA violations.
  • Counsel for multinational conglomerate on AML risk and compliance issues.
  • Counsel for payment processing company on BSA/AML compliance issues.

Engagement & Publications

Speaking Engagements

  • New York City Bar, International White Collar Crime Symposium 2021, Global Enforcement Trends (Nov. 30, 2021)*
  • Wall Street Journal Risk and Compliance Forum, Interview on Cryptocurrency Enforcement (Oct. 12, 2021)*
  • Cambridge Forum, Sanctions & AML Compliance, Government Enforcement Panel (Sept. 14, 2021)*
  • Guidehouse, Directors Roundtable, Who is Responsible for Corporate Misconduct? (Mar. 16, 2021)*
  • Asian American Bar Association of New York, Fall Conference 2020: Enforcement in a Fragmented World (Nov. 10, 2020)*
  • New York City Bar, International White Collar Crime Symposium 2021, The Long Arm of the Law: What the Extra-Territorial Tools of the Department of Justice Mean for Asian Companies and Individuals (Sept. 18, 2019)*
  • Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, AML & Financial Crimes Conference (Feb. 5, 2019)*
  • Panelist, GIR Live DC, Corporate Enforcement Panel (Oct. 25, 2018)*
  • Keynote Speaker, Casino Essentials AML Conference, Casino Enforcement Speech (Aug. 15, 2018)*
  • U.S.-China Business Council, Panelist, FCPA Business Roundtable (May 9, 2017)*
  • GIR Anti-Corruption Conference, FCPA Enforcement Speech (Sao Paolo, Brazil) (Oct. 20, 2016)*
  • Keynote Speaker, China Anti-Corruption Compliance Forum (Beijing, China) (Jun. 26, 2014)*

* Speaking engagements before joining Paul Hastings LLP


  • Corporate Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions (Aspen Publishing) (forthcoming 2022)
  • DOJ Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework (October 2020) (Task Force Contributor)
  • Money Moves: Following the Money Beyond the Banking System, 67 Journal of Federal Law and Practice 95 (Sept. 2019).




  • Lecturer in Law, Corporate Criminal Investigations, Harvard Law School, 2018-present
  • Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, 2018-present


  • Hon. Robert Boochever, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (1998-1999)

Practice Areas

Investigations and White Collar Defense

National Security Regulation and Investigations

Fintech and Payments

Anti-Corruption and FCPA

Global Trade Controls

White Collar Defense




District of Columbia Bar

New York Bar


Cornell Law School, J.D. 1998

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, B.A. 1992

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