On March 16, six people were arrested in the city of Keene, New Hampshire in the United States, accused of illegally operating a cryptocurrency exchange through websites and even ATMs that exchanged bitcoin (BTC) for dollars. It is the libertarian activist group “Free Keene”, which wanted to migrate the city’s economic system to decentralized digital currencies. Now, unprecedented details of the federal operation have been revealed.
O The Verge published this last Monday (02) a report that tells in detail the story of the Free Keene group and what happened on March 16, when the FBI invaded several properties associated with the movement, seized millions in bitcoin, and arrested six people . “They operated their virtual currency exchange business using cryptocurrency websites and ATMs in New Hampshire,” the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in the indictment.
FBI arrested six people in exaggerated military operation
Among the accused individuals, some even changed their names for the sake of the cause.” Ian Freeman, formerly 40-year-old Ian Bernard, is believed to be the movement’s leader. Other detainees were Colleen Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, Aria DiMezzo and even a person named “Nobody”, formerly Richard Paul.
According to the The Verge he learned, the operation carried out that morning was frighteningly militarized. Freeman awoke to the sound of glass breaking in his office and found a numerous special police team, complete with drones flying overhead, SUVs outside and rifles aimed at him. Aria DiMezzo revealed that that same night she was surprised by another FBI team who reportedly threatened to shoot her if she moved.
The operation also seized millions in possession of the libertarian group. At multiple locations in the city of Keene, the FBI took down ATMs dedicated to converting cryptocurrencies. In total, US$ 50,000 in cash were seized from inside the machines. The agents also found and took another $180,000 from Freeman’s house, along with silver bars, a gold and platinum coin, and two physical bitcoins of 1 BTC and 100 BTC, which stopped being sold in 2013 and are now worth more of US$4 million.
Activist movement or criminal organization?
The FBI had been investigating the libertarian group and its actions for years, looking for evidence of illegal activities such as money laundering. But the charge that deterred the activists was that of operating a cryptocurrency exchange business illegally, which allowed customers to exchange more than $10 million for digital coins. For its services, the group also charged an administrative fee on transactions.
The business, however, was very successful and transformed part of the small town of New Hamphsire into a “libertarian paradise”, whose economy started to function without the use of dollars. At least 20 merchants have adopted cryptocurrency payments at Freeman’s request.
The Free Keene project describes itself as a “New Hampshire freedom activism” group. All of its participants are long-time supporters of digital currencies such as bitcoin and have grown rich from the asset’s appreciation in recent years. As early as 2021, the group founded a “Bitcoin Embassy” in Keene, a small room next to a convenience store where there was a cryptocurrency ATM.
While the prosecution alleges that “the defendants knowingly operated a digital currency exchange in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations,” defense attorneys describe the bill in more idealistic terms: “the defendants were a loosely affiliated group of people with libertarian political leanings that included a strong belief that bitcoin was a big step forward for those who defend human freedom.”
However, the US Department of Justice said the group had created a series of front-line religious institutions to evade detection of its operation, claiming that the whole deal was actually charitable contributions, thereby throwing off the eyes of tax authorities. The defendants have been released on bail and the trial is set for October 22, 2021. They are charged with fraud, money laundering and tax crimes.
With information: The Verge