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6 accused of running unlicensed money transmitting business

March 16, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A leader of a libertarian group in New Hampshire and self-described minister who demonstrated against state coronavirus pandemic restrictions pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he ran an unlicensed virtual currency exchange business and misled financial institutions into believing he was running a religious organization receiving charitable contributions.

Ian Freeman, 40, of Keene, appeared via video before a magistrate judge, one of six people indicted on a charge of participating in a conspiracy to operate the business, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

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According to the indictment, Freeman and others “knowingly instructed virtual currency customers to lie to financial institutions about the virtual currency transactions that customers were executing. Specifically, they instructed customers to conceal from financial institutions the fact that the customers were purchasing virtual currency, and in certain cases, to state falsely that payments were church donations or for the purpose of purchasing rare coins.”

Freeman, who also faces five other charges, was jailed and faces a detention hearing on Friday. He responded to a magistrate judge’s questions, saying he understood the proceedings.

The six were arrested following an FBI investigation in Keene on Tuesday. Freeman’s lawyer, Mark Sisti, asked that FBI officials who said “there is no threat to the public safety” with regard to the arrests, according to a media report, be present as witnesses for the detention hearing.

According to the indictments, the group operated a business since 2016 enabling customers to exchange over $10 million in fiat currency for virtual currency, and charging a fee for their service. It alleges that the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations.

Group members are accused of advertising virtual currency for sale online through websites, including LocalBitcoins.com, and operating virtual currency automated teller machines or kiosks in New Hampshire.

The indictment also alleges that some group members opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities called the Shire Free Church; the Crypto Church of NH; the Church of the Invisible Hand; and the Reformed Satanic Church.

“The co-conspirators engaged in substantial efforts to evade detection of their unlawful virtual currency exchange scheme by avoiding answering financial institutions’ questions about the nature of the business and tricking financial institutions into believing that their unlawful virtual currency exchange business was instead a religious organization receiving charitable contributions,” according to the indictment.

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It wasn’t immediately known if all of the group members had lawyers.

Freeman faced the most charges. He’s also accused of two wire fraud charges, money laundering, operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Freeman is a leader of the libertarian Free Keene group and hosts a radio show and blog. He also is a self-described minister and was campaign manager for a sheriff’s candidate who is a self-described satanist.

The Free Keene blog suggests to readers to consider it a link to “news about liberty activism” in the area, opinions and ideas, “and most importantly action about how we can end government aggression and replace it with voluntary alternatives, thereby achieving liberty in our lifetime.”

The site says some bloggers are New Hampshire natives, while others moved to the state as part of an “ongoing migration of libertarians.” The Free State Project was founded in 2001 to recruit thousands of libertarians to move to New Hampshire.