Criminal Justice

Judge rules bitcoin isn't money, tosses money laundering charges

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A Miami judge has found that bitcoin isn’t the same as money and tossed criminal charges against a man accused of selling $1,500 worth of the virtual currency to undercover agents.

Judge Teresa Mary Pooler ruled (PDF) on Monday that bitcoin isn’t money, the Miami Herald reports.

As a result, Pooler said, defendant Michell Abner Espinoza wasn’t operating an unlicensed money-services business. “The court is not an expert in economics, however, it is very clear, even to someone with limited knowledge in the area, the bitcoin has a long way to go before it the equivalent of money,” Pooler wrote.

Pooler also ruled there was insufficient evidence that Espinoza committed the crime of money laundering. He was accused of selling bitcoin to federal agents who said they were going to use the currency to buy stolen credit-card numbers.

The state statute requires those charged to intend to promote illegal activity, but the word promote “is troublingly vague,” Pooler wrote. “There is unquestionably no evidence that the defendant did anything wrong, other than sell his bitcoin to an investigator who wanted to make a case,” Pooler wrote.

The case is believed to be the first money-laundering prosecution involving bitcoin and was “closely watched in tech, financial and legal circles,” according to the Miami Herald.

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