By Maryam Manzoor
A Bitcoin (BTC) trader from the US state of Arizona has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison after he was found guilty of money laundering, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Wednesday.
Thomas Mario Costanzo, 54, known online as Morpheus Titania, will get credit for the time he has already served since his arrest in April 2017.
At the end of March, Costanzo was was found guilty of five counts of money laundering by a federal jury in Phoenix. Federal agents launched an investigation into the suspect in 2014, after Costanzo posted on an exchange website, claiming he was prepared to engage in cash transactions of up to $50,000.
When approached by undercover federal agents posing as drug dealers, Costanzo “provided them with Bitcoin and told them it was a great way to limit their exposure to law enforcement”.
“The jury found that over a two-year period, Costanzo took $164,700 in cash from the agents (whom he believed to be heroin and cocaine traffickers) and exchanged it for Bitcoin in order to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the drug proceeds,” the statement reads.
Last year, federal agents conducted a raid on Costanzo’s home, on suspicion of unlawful possession of ammunition and money laundering via cryptocurrencies, which resulted in his arrest. The jury also found him guilty of using Bitcoin to buy drugs, and aiding other individuals in similar purchases by providing the with Bitcoins.
At its March conviction, the Justice Department acknowledged that Bitcoin may be used for legitimate purposes, as anyone can get BTC from a commercial exchange, paying about 1.5% as a commission. For comparison, Costanzo charged some 7% to 10% in his peer-to-peer transactions.
In addition, the court ruled that the 80 BTC (now worth more than $600,000), provided by Costanzo to the undercover agent as part of the final $107,000 money laundering deal are to be forfeited.
Digital currencies’ potential for usage in illicit activities such as fraud and money laundering is among the most frequently cited concerns by cryptocurrency detractors. Bitcoin has been dismissed by countless critics as a vehicle for crime. A study conducted earlier this year revealed that cybercriminals specifically target cryptocurrencies, as the anonymity they provide makes them ideal for laundering criminal proceeds.
Recent reports of crypto crime include Japanese organized crime groups and California’s “Bitcoin Maven” who was recently sentenced to one year in jail for laundering Bitcoins worth millions of dollars.