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Man gets prison for exchanging currency for drug dealers

November 19, 2021 GMT

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California man was sentenced Thursday to three years in federal prison for operating unlicensed businesses that illegally exchanged millions of dollars in Bitcoin and cash, often for drug dealers, prosecutors said.

Hugo Sergio Mejia, 50, pleaded guilty in July to one count each of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and money laundering, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Mejia, of Ontario, charged commissions on nearly $13 million in transactions by his virtual businesses over more than two years, the statement said.

He never registered his companies with the U.S. Department of the Treasury as required, and set up multiple businesses to avoid detection, investigators found.

Prosecutors said Mejia advertised his business online and was referred to customers by word of mouth, communicating with them via encrypted messaging services and meeting them in person at coffee shops.

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During a sting, Mejia informed a client working with law enforcement that one of his main customers was a methamphetamine buyer in Australia who made Bitcoin-cash transactions exceeding $250,000, authorities said.

As part of his plea agreement, Mejia agreed to forfeit all assets derived from the illegal conduct, including $234,000 in cash, $96,000 in cryptocurrency, as well as silver coins and bars.