A Florida appeals court has overturned a ruling that acquitted a Localbitcoins trader of money laundering and working as an unlicensed money transmitter.
Bitcoin No Longer ‘Poker Chips’?
As local news outlet Miami Herald reported January 30, Michell Espinoza, who sold bitcoin worth around $1350 to an undercover police detective in 2014, will now face a jury.
Prosecutors argue Espinoza should have registered as a money transmitter before advertising services on P2P trading platform Localbitcoins. A settlement in 2016 threw out the charges after a judge agreed Bitcoin was not legally money.
“Basically, it’s poker chips that people are willing to buy from you,” a defense witness said in court at the time.
The Third District Court of Appeal, however, has other ideas.
“Espinoza’s bitcoins-for-cash business requires him to register as a payment instrument seller and money transmitter,” the Herald quotes lawmakers as saying Wednesday.
A trial date has not yet materialized.
Setting A Precedent
Espinoza’s case was complicated by the fact that the undercover officer told him he planned to use the bitcoins to buy hacked data.
Nonetheless, the implications of a potential successful conviction are significant. The case could allow law enforcement to prosecute more Localbitcoins traders if there is a reason to suspect they are engaging in “business” and not sales of “private” bitcoin holdings.
The U.S. has strived to enshrine obligations surrounding taxation and securities in law for cryptocurrency issuers and holders, but the national landscape remains patchwork.
As Bitcoinist reported, individual states have taken markedly different approaches to cryptocurrency, ranging from openly accepting to openly hostile.
Such is the headache for some businesses looking to serve the US market, exchanges including Bittrex and Coinbase have opted to segregate their domestic and non-domestic audiences by setting up entirely separate platforms.
In December, a bipartisan bill appeared in Congress aiming to exempt cryptocurrencies from securities law.
What do you think about the Miami appeals court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below!
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