Sep. 13—Facing federal charges, Keene resident Ian Freeman is maintaining his innocence even as four of his co-defendants have entered guilty pleas related to a Bitcoin business that prosecutors say he ran illegally.
Aria DiMezzo, also of Keene, became the latest to admit wrongdoing in the case when she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court of New Hampshire in Concord on Monday to a single count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, a charge that Freeman also faces.
Earlier this year, an Elm City resident who legally changed his name from Richard Paul to Nobody and Derry residents Renee and Andrew Spinella also pleaded guilty, each to a single charge of wire fraud. (In April, the federal government dropped charges against an Alstead woman who had been indicted as a co-conspirator.) The FBI arrested the six in March 2021.
"I don't think it's going to affect my situation," Freeman said of the guilty pleas during a phone interview Tuesday. "Unfortunately my friends have taken guilty pleas because ... it's a scary thing to go to trial."
Prosecutors claim Freeman, a libertarian activist who is known for the radio program "Free Talk Live," and several co-conspirators violated federal law by running an unlicensed virtual currency-exchange business that handled more than $10 million in transactions over several years.
According to the government, Freeman and other co-defendants used personal bank accounts and accounts in the names of "purported religious entities" — including the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of NH, the Church of the Invisible Hand and the Reformed Satanic Church — to conceal the nature of their business. Prosecutors say they then directed customers to falsely report that they were donating to churches or buying rare coins, not purchasing cryptocurrency.
But Freeman — who said prosecutors offered him a plea deal earlier this year that would have had him plead guilty to all but the weightiest charge he faces, continuing a financial crimes enterprise, which would be dismissed — said he plans to take the case to trial. Court filings indicate his trial is currently scheduled to begin Nov. 1, though the trial has been rescheduled before.
"No one was harmed in this situation," he said. "I don't believe we broke any of the laws in this case and I believe this trial is a sham."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Georgiana L. MacDonald in March 2021 alleged that "hordes of cybercriminals" bought virtual currency from Freeman in an effort to avoid detection by banks and government regulators. Freeman's lawyer, Mark Sisti, however, has previously told The Sentinel he has seen evidence of Freeman refusing to deal with criminals.
In addition to the charge of continuing a financial crimes enterprise, which carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison, Freeman faces 24 felony charges: conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud, four counts of money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of attempting to evade taxes. A federal grand jury in April returned a superseding indictment against him with those charges, overriding an earlier indictment on 11 original charges.
"It's pretty clear all of this is coming after me; they used my friends to come after me and bring as many charges as they possibly can," Freeman said. "This is why they are offering people deals because they only want to put me in prison."
He also said, in his case and others, the federal government is targeting cryptocurrency writ-large: "They know that cryptocurrency is a threat to the financial status-quo; it is a threat to the U.S. dollar and they are lashing out in desperation at it."
DiMezzo, also a libertarian activist, ran unsuccessfully for Cheshire County sheriff in 2020 as a Republican and this year is running for N.H. House of Representatives in Cheshire County District 1 as a Republican. She was unopposed in Tuesday's primary. Freeman was also contending for a position at the Statehouse, running as a Republican for N.H. Senate District 10 on a platform centered around New Hampshire seceding from the United States, but fell short in Tuesday's race.
In exchange for DiMezzo's guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, four counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering, according to court documents. The charge she pleaded guilty to carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, court documents state. Filings indicate she is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 20.
Her plea agreement states that from June 2020 to at least January 2021, DiMezzo operated a business through which she exchanged U.S. currency for virtual currency for a fee, recruiting customers on websites including localbitcoins.com, who sent money to accounts in her name or in the name of the Reformed Satanic Church, an entity she created.
She sold between $1,500,000 and $3,500,000 worth of virtual currency but never registered her business, never filed reports for transactions over $10,000, and never filed suspicious activity reports flagging transactions potentially involving funds derived from illegal activity, as required by law, the plea agreement states.
DiMezzo said in a phone interview Tuesday that she hopes her guilty plea has a minimal impact on her campaign. Since she is scheduled to be sentenced later this year, she said, it is unclear whether her sentence could impact her time in the Statehouse, if she is elected. She referred all other questions to her lawyer, Richard Guerriero.
In a phone interview, Guerriero noted the narrowness of the charge of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business that DiMezzo pleaded to. He had previously filed a motion to dismiss that charge and the conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business charge, but Judge Joseph Laplante denied that motion on Sept. 1, according to court filings.
"Aria pleaded guilty only to not having the licenses required by the [U.S.] Department of the Treasury," Guerriero said. "... She is being honest and owning up to not having a license and she is not being convicted of anything else."
The court specifically asked whether there is any restitution DiMezzo would owe with her conviction on the charge, Guerriero said, but the government indicated she owed none.
"The government confirmed on the record that there is no restitution owed to anybody," he said. "... No one suffered any loss."
This article has been changed to correct a point about the plea deal Ian Freeman said he was offered.
Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @rspencerKS