Florida, Money Laundering and Virtual Currencies – Clarifying the Muddy Waters

Florida legislature passes bill to add virtual currencies to money laundering statute in response to last year’s court ruling that bitcoin can’t be the basis for money laundering charges

Last year, a Miami judge dismissed criminal charges against a Florida-based bitcoin seller who had been caught in a sting in which undercover law enforcement officers engaged him to convert cash into bitcoin. They told him they intended to use the bitcoin to buy stolen credit card numbers. The man helped the officers convert the cash into bitcoin, and he was arrested and indicted on illegal money transmission and money laundering charges.

Prior to trial, the man challenged the charges, arguing that bitcoin doesn’t constitute a form of money under Florida criminal law. The judge sided with the defense and dismissed the charges. In doing so, she stated that the “court is unwilling to punish a man for selling his property to another when his actions fall under a statute so vaguely written that even legal professionals have difficulty finding a singular meaning.” She further noted that, although bitcoin has some of the same attributes as what is commonly considered money, it “has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money.” The judge invited the Florida legislature to address the issue.

Late last week, the Florida legislature did just that. It passed a bill adding “virtual currency” to the definition of “monetary instruments” in Florida’s Money Laundering Act. If the bill is signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott, people who transmit money into bitcoin (or other virtual currencies) knowing that they are laundering dirty money or fostering future criminal activity can be charged criminally just as if they had used bank deposits or wire transfers.

If you’d like to read about last year’s court ruling, you can find it here. You can find a discussion of Florida’s new bill here.

If you’d like to discuss last year’s court ruling or Florida’s new bill, call me at 304-340-3860 or e-mail me at nmooney@spilmanlaw.com.

By Nicholas P. Mooney Jr.



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