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Judge Shoots Down "Bitcoin Isn't Money" Argument In Silk Road Trial 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-fought-the-law dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with the latest in the case against the alleged creator of the Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht. The government and legal community may still be arguing over whether bitcoin can be defined as "money." But the judge presiding over the landmark Silk Road drug case has declared that it's at least close enough to get you locked up for money laundering. In a ruling released Wednesday, Judge Katherine Forrest denied a motion by Ross Ulbricht, the 30-year-old alleged creator of the Silk Road billion-dollar online drug bazaar, to dismiss all criminal charges against him. Those charges include narcotics trafficking conspiracy, money laundering, and hacking conspiracy charges, as well as a "continuing criminal enterprise" charge that's better known as the "kingpin" statute used to prosecute criminal gang and cartel leaders.
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Judge Shoots Down "Bitcoin Isn't Money" Argument In Silk Road Trial

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:44AM (#47422885)

    Really. One would have to be extremely dense, or have lived in a cave for the last 30 years to not make the connection that Bitcoin is still a financial tool. Bitcoin's primary purpose is to traffic/launder money and goods. But it's not just bitcoin, it's also all those various game time cards you can buy at 7-11.

    • by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:43AM (#47423061) Homepage Journal

      Bitcoin's primary purpose is to traffic/launder money and goods.

      I was going to say something about people who are financial tools themselves...

      However, I guess you're right. I want to be responsible for my money, and I want to be able to use it freely, without government snooping. If that makes me a money launderer, so be it. It's like those politically organized pirates that simply want to use a free Internet, rather than rape and pillage.

      Bitcoin isn't even particularly anonymous. If you want to launder your coins, you need to trust a third party, which kind of ruins the point of a decentralized/free currency. There are much better cryptocurrencies out there for anonymous purposes.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 10, 2014 @07:39AM (#47423205)

        If that makes me a money launderer (...)

        What makes someone a money launderer is how they employ tricks to eliminate any trace between the money exchanged in an illegal transaction and how it is being officially accounted for.

        In very much the same way as a specific brand of laundry detergent is used as a currency in illegal transactions [wikipedia.org].

        In the case of encryption key schemes such as bitcoin, the thing that gave it traction was how the silk road functioned through a wink and a nod, with peers agreeing that to conduct their illegal business they first exchanged their money for crypto keys, conducted the business by giving the crypto keys in exchange for illegal goods and services, and then exchanged the crypto keys for real money. The only purpose behind this scheme was to eliminate the paper trail between the money and the illegal transaction.

        That's what makes it a money laundering scheme. Because its primary use is to launder money.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          of course it is used for that. all new technology is embraced by the criminal element first. High risk, High reward = huge incentive to employ whatever it takes not to get caught, and make more money, coupled with tons of disposable income to spend on the newest technologies. The internet itself was a den of thieves and pornographers at first, the positive uses outweighed the negatives though .. as we can see now. Cell phones, pagers, ... GPS guided mini submarines ... all used for crime primarily from ear

        • Money laundering is any use of cash which the government deems in a particular case to be connected with a criminal enterprise. This includes simple possession of cash, independent of its use in any transaction.

        • In very much the same way as a specific brand of laundry detergent is used as a currency in illegal transactions.

          Except that doesn't happen. A 100 ounce bottle of Tide weighs about 7 lbs and sells for $10. Your friendly neighborhood drug dealer would need a fucking U-Haul to carry away the detergent equivalent of one afternoon's sales.

          It's a dumb urban legend that isn't even remotely plausible.

      • <i> I want to be responsible for my money, and I want to be able to use it freely, without government snooping.</i>

        Use cash - it's like bitcoin but it can't be tracked across the Internet.

        Of course, if you take cash from some people and then give it to other people, well then you must be a criminal.
        • by westlake (615356)

          Of course, if you take cash from some people and then give it to other people, well then you must be a criminal.

          If you know where you stand as middle man in a criminal transaction - such as a money laundering scheme - you most certainly are a criminal yourself.

          • by cusco (717999)

            Unless you're a former Treasury Secretary who goes to work for CitiCorps money laundering, er, 'private banking' division, or the head of the New York Stock Exchange who can go to Colombia and offer the NYSE's services to the FARC. Then you're just a shining example of the values of a Business Administration degree.

        • also if you're pulling out tens of thousands of dollars of cash out of the bank, that gets flagged as suspicious. or cashing extremely large checks. or doing business in straight cash transactions for large(ish, relative to individual use) sums...

      • by mlw4428 (1029576)
        God, then pay cash. You act as if YOUR legal financial dealings are important. Unless you're buying anthrax, massive amounts of coke, or guns with serial numbers filed off than chances are your dealings are about as interesting to the government as my pissing schedule is to you.
    • Then why do they call Bitcoin an electronic currency? Heck, even the name contains the word "coin." You can't have it one way when facing a judge for a certain lawsuit, and then switch it to something else when a different lawsuit or legislation rears it's head.

      Do you know what else is a "financial tool?" The dollar. It can be used to traffic/launder money & goods too.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Bitcoin's primary purpose is to traffic/launder money and goods.

      Objection. Will stipulate that its primary purpose is to traffic. But I call mega-bullshit on its primary or even secondary purpose being to launder, though there might be a way one could use Bitcoin for that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The judge dismisses the 'bitcoin is not money' portion based of a ruling that the IRS and Fed Reserve do not have the authority to define what 'money' is. (both having defined bitcoin as 'property' and not 'money') Which is all fine and good, but the US Marshal has already ruled bitcoin as property since they disposed of the seized bitcoin through a property sale. There are very particular and different rules governing the disposal of money and property. One would think the US Marshals office actions would

    • by Barny (103770)

      There you go assuming again. Assuming that this was ever going to be about bitcoin != money.

      You know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass of you and ming. Poor ming.

    • by Gravis Zero (934156) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @07:09AM (#47423109)

      The judge dismisses the 'bitcoin is not money' portion based of a ruling that the IRS and Fed Reserve do not have the authority to define what 'money' is. (both having defined bitcoin as 'property' and not 'money') Which is all fine and good, but the US Marshal has already ruled bitcoin as property since they disposed of the seized bitcoin through a property sale. There are very particular and different rules governing the disposal of money and property. One would think the US Marshals office actions would be the statute defining action.

      do you really think the US government wont have it both ways? i'm reminded of this story: "US government declares hacking an act of war, then hacks allies" [washingtonexaminer.com]

      if I've learned anything in my life, it's that laws, logic and common sense dont really matter to the government or big business... unless it's convenient.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:32AM (#47423025)

    a "continuing criminal enterprise" charge that's better known as the "kingpin" statute used to prosecute criminal gang and cartel leaders.

    Given the billion's of $US that various [newsweek.com] banks [wsj.com] have been fined recently, for things like evading US taxes and money laundering for Syria, Iraq, and Somalia, isn't it about time that the legal system give the same treatment to bankers committing these crimes?

    Why do they get to pay fines that don't have any real effect? Just look how their stock always go up after they announce a deal. If any individual ever gets fired it's always the low level person who takes the hit, and they all end up going to work for someone else and never face any real problems.

    Oh, I just remembered: bribes/campaign contributions along with the revolving door and juicy high paying jobs for former regulators. To bad drug dealers can't have a revolving door with law enforcement.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:38AM (#47423043) Homepage

      Actually most of America would applaud the SWAT team entering banks with shotguns and tasers.

      Listening to an investment banker on the floor screaming "dont taze me bro" would pretty much make every single person on the planet smile at the same time. It would cause world peace and make cold fusion work.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Listening to an investment banker on the floor screaming "dont taze me bro" would pretty much make every single person on the planet smile at the same time. It would cause world peace and make cold fusion work.

        Sounds like an awesome idea for a Kick Starter campaign.

        Surely it would do almost as well as potato salad. [gizmodo.com]

        Doing the same to the people in charge of the NSA would also be awesome.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Actually most of America would applaud the SWAT team entering banks with shotguns and tasers.

        Only if I can get there and withdraw my savings first.

        All of you haters underestimate the extent to which our economy depends on the unimpeded flow of capital and assets facilitated by these legal loopholes. Plug them and 1929 and 2008 will look like good times by comparison.

        What I object to is the two tiered system that results from this. Any one of us plebes tries to move more than $10K across a border without doing the paperwork and its off to the rebar Hilton. A company moves assets worth billions fr

  • Judge Shoots Down "Bitcoin Isn't Money" Argument In Silk Road Trial

    The argument may still be valid in a Vulcan court, though.

  • by Deagol (323173) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @07:18AM (#47423137) Homepage

    Since we are supposed to report the value of barter transactions to the IRS at tax time, I don't think one (in the US, anyway) can ever argue in court that something used as a proxy for value cannot be treated as "money".

  • Moron Judge (Score:1, Interesting)

    by nurb432 (527695)

    Its not *money*, its just simple bartering. in this case for objects that people agree on is valuable ( like pez dispensers, game tokens, or Gold Pressed Latinum ) Now, can trading in illegal/stolen items get you put in jail, sure. But its not *money* laundering. ( i think the correct term in most areas would be 'criminal conversion' )

    Much like 'piracy is theft', while it may be illegal to do so, its still not *theft* because the term is used.

    This perversion of terms and concepts is dangerous. It only leads

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When it suits their interests, its money. when it doesnt - its not money. Yay for multiple meanings depending on what I want. Slavery is Freedom.

    • Re:Moron Judge (Score:5, Informative)

      by JBMcB (73720) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @08:11AM (#47423303)

      Money is anything that can be used to store or trade value. Anything *can* be money, but that doesn't mean it is.

      If people are buying bitcoin, then trading it for goods, services, or other forms of money, then, de-facto, it's money.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Except the IRS has declared that bitcoin is property, not currency.

        Q-1: How is virtual currency treated for federal tax purposes?
        A-1: For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property. General tax
        principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual
        currency.

        and

        http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroo... [irs.gov]

        The money laundering statute applies to the below:

        (4) the term âoefinancial transactionâ means
        (A) a transaction which in any way or degree affects interstate or fo

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          Your first quote blows your whole argument out of the water.

          Except the IRS has declared that bitcoin is property, not currency.

          Q-1: How is virtual currency treated for federal tax purposes?
          A-1: For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property. General tax
          principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual
          currency.

          Lets break down the answer

          For federal tax purposes,

          This clause limits the scope of the statement. It specifically states that is applies only to federal tax purposes. Since money laundering statutes have nothing to do with federal taxes the rest of the statement does not apply to money laundering statutes.

          virtual currency

          They use the term "virtual currency" and not a phrase like "items known as virtual currency" which is evidence that the IRS thinks Bitcoin is currency.

          is treated as property

          Notice they say "i

      • by PPH (736903)

        De-facto money, yes. But money for the purposes of FINCEN [fincen.gov] and IRS regulations?

        Money and 'property' are subject to different federal regulations. So if Bitcoin is considered money, then a whole bunch of addtional reporting requirements and controls apply to it.

    • Re:Moron Judge (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pjt33 (739471) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @08:20AM (#47423341)

      But he's not charged with money laundering. He's charged with conspiracy to launder money. If dirty money comes in and clean money comes out then money laundering has occurred, whether or not some of the intermediate steps involved the exchange of non-monetary assets. So "I was only involved in transactions involving the exchange of non-monetary assets" is irrelevant: what matters is a) whether they were part of a larger chain of transactions to launder money; b) whether he was aware of that larger chain.

      • The problem is, it is going to be really hard for the Government to trace money laundering with Bitcoin, if the people take a few simple steps.

        1) Use unique wallet for each transaction
        2) Use a washing service every time one acquires new coins in a normal transaction.
        3) ???
        4) Profit

        The government is going to try to regulate "coin washing", but since it is a decentralized currency, with no government boarders, it is going to be really hard to pull off well.

        • by bloodhawk (813939)

          they don't have to trace it. All they have to show is he wasn't following the regulations for financial transactions and that known criminals were using his services.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is money. Unlike Gold Pressed Latinum or pez dispensers, bitcoin has no manifestation or function other than to be converted into currency.

      Perverting common sense is dangerous, it only leads to people feeling they are the target of a conspiracy.

    • Its not *money*, its just simple bartering. in this case for objects that people agree on is valuable ( like pez dispensers, game tokens, or Gold Pressed Latinum...

      ...or little rectangles of paper with intricate designs in green ink printed all over them...

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        Fortunately we have laws that define those pieces of paper as legal tender, which differentiates them from little bits of hash solutions and things that people define in internet forums.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          Fortunately we have laws that define those pieces of paper as legal tender, which differentiates them from little bits of hash solutions and things that people define in internet forums.

          "Legal tender" where? I don't have to accept your funny paper. Not that you could send it to me anyway, since only fools tell their Real Life adress over the Internet, and even if I did, it would take days - and neither of us would have proof that the transaction actually happened. And of course, it's not like I'm obligated

      • You're talking about Acid, right?

        People exchange that for goods and services all the time, and it's always valuable!

    • The instant Bitcoin was converted to ANY form of money, it became money; subjected to the same audit trail, regulation, forensics, and transparency as money.

      That alone is the show stopper for Bitcoin.

      • No, that is not a show stopper for Bitcoin. It is what is going to drive Bitcoin to full currency status faster, where people trade money for the more usable Bitcoin.

        Here is the issue, anything that makes something less utilitarian and causes restrictions will fall into disfavor eventually. Laws and Restrictions and fees and taxes all have the unintended consequence of driving economy deeper under the table. There is a whole class of people who now work off the books, bartering and trading and whatnot, and

      • by PPH (736903)

        Now, replace the term 'Bitcoin' in that sentence with 'unregistered securities'. Then ask Wall Street's dark markets, the banking and investment community what their opinion is on that and they will 1) shit themselves, and 2) run to Congress for an exemption to monetary reporting regulations.

  • by bloodhawk (813939) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @07:59AM (#47423261)

    Seriously is it that hard to keep the utter bullshit out of the summary. The ruling made no such suggestion that bitcoin was money or close enough. She ruled you can convert bitcoin to money, the same way you can convert a bag of cow shit. In other words she ruled that bartering goods doesn't get around money laundering rules as the goods have value.

    • I would have ruled that money laundering laws are stupid and should be thrown out! There are a lot of other shits we could charge this guy with. For example: Continuing criminal enterprise.

      • Charging someone with being a criminal makes almost as much sense as charging someone with being a terrorist.

        • It's more that he created an enterprise to facilitate criminal activities, particularly contraband smuggling and sales. Operating a business for the purpose of facilitating crime in general is different than "being a criminal".

  • Sort of like the wave-particle duality
  • These bitcoins probably weren't intended to stay as bitcoins forever.
    The flow probably looks like this : buyer uses USD to buy BTC, buyer transfers BTC to seller, seller sells BTC to get USD. That's pretty much the definition of money laundering.

    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @10:46AM (#47424173) Journal

      That is not how money laundering looks like. Here is what Money Laundering Looks like

      Illegal gained money is given to a Legitmate enterprise (Gambling) and is returned as "profit" or whatever from the enterprise. In a very simple case, mob money is put into a slot machine, and 98% of it is returned when the jackpot is hit. The gains, now washed (legitimate) are taxed and are clean for use elsewhere (deposit into a bank). Where if you just stuck the gains in the bank would trigger all sorts of investigations. This is part of the reason why deposits of $10,000 or more in banks are automatically reported to treasury, for an audit of the money trail.

      The trick in money laundering is to hide the input (initial gains being laundered) well enough that it doesn't trigger the reporting requirement of transactions of 10K or more. A series of 5000 "high risk" transactions where you lose most of the time, but win big occasionally, is typically how money is laundered. The inputs are not traceable, and the earnings become legitimate.

      The goal is always to hide the initial input, obfuscate the long trail of transactions and end up with legitimate money on the back end. The transaction you describe is used to obfuscate the buyer and seller from each other, and the authorities, not the transaction. Money laundering still has to occur with the seller, as the bitcoin to currency exchange still has dirty money written all over it.

      • A series of 5000 "high risk" transactions where you lose most of the time, but win big occasionally, is typically how money is laundered. The inputs are not traceable, and the earnings become legitimate.

        Sounds like the stock market. Futures or Commodities.

  • When was the last time the government auctioned off seized money?
    Wouldn't they just add it to their accounts instead?

    But instead they auctioned bitcoins, as an object. Now they claim they're money. All in the same case.

    • When was the last time the government auctioned off seized money? Wouldn't they just add it to their accounts instead?

      But instead they auctioned bitcoins, as an object. Now they claim they're money. All in the same case.

      Everyone focuses on the money aspect but in actually the ruling focuses on the transfer of funds, and funds is a broad concept per the ruling. What I find ironic is the judge referred to online references to using Bitcoin as currency to refute the defense's claims.

      Finally, the feds routinely auction of seized currency when the collectors value is greater than the face value. In Bitcoins case, auctioning them was simpler than attempting to convert them over time and possibly drive the market price down signi

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      The problem is that the government can not walk up to the banks they deal with and deposit Bitcoins. Some banks to not accept some currencies but that does not invalidate the fact that it is still a currency. Try to go to a local bank and deposit foreign currency. You will notice that the bank will convert the foreign currency to local currency and deposit the local currency. Most banks do not have a conversion process from Bitcoin to local currency therefore one can not directly deposit Bitcoins. All the g

  • Bitcoin is money when the government wants it to be so they can take it from you or accuse you of money laundering. Bitcoin is not money when the government doesn't want it to be such as if you want to use it to pay taxes.
  • article headline is stupid...

    ruling that something can be stolen does not prove it is "money"

    anything of value that can be owned can be stolen (in monetary terms)

    "money" is a dumb word to use as a milestone

    BTC's problem is that it is not accepted as payment for things like taxes, mortgage payments, car payments...it's not accepted currency....it's a hobby currency

    when you can pay your mortgage or taxes with BTC then it is "money"

    • I can't pay taxes in Euros, and I don't think my mortgage company will accept Euros. They're still money.

      • you're trolling...but I want to respond for posterity as it is theoretically possible that someone could be misled by your response.

        ***IN EUROPE YOU CAN***

        and you can take that money and exchange it for dollars **anywhere they exchange money**

        you're attempt at finding fault in my conclusion is completely invalid...no official monetary issuing body accepts BTC

        again...when I can pay my taxes and mortgage with BTC it is "money" until then it is a hobby currency

        • I can find bitcoin exchanges, and I can find people who will give me stuff for bitcoins. And, as I said, I can't pay my mortgage or taxes in Euros or bitcoins. I live in the USA, and my mortgage is held by a US company. I'd actually find bitcoins more useful around here than Euros, as there's more things I can buy with them.

          Historically, money has been issued by all sorts of entities, governments probably being a small portion by number. I think you're using a nonstandard definition.

          • it's different and you know it

            anyone still reading...jeez...BTC isn't "money" like a currency is "money"

  • by barfy (256323) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @12:52PM (#47425073)

    "Money's" history has largely been one of property. It was gold, it was silver, it was in general immutable, you could warp it, stamp it, it was inherently worth whatever it was. The mark of the coin, provided sovereign trust that the "money" was the quantity and purity that you would expect.

    This moved largely to a representation of something of value. Which would work so long as the banker or sovereign would create the right quantity of representation. This resulted in bubbles and bank runs when it wasn't done right. But it was essentiality tied to this immutable stuff. A gold standard. This has historically always failed...

    Today money is the creation of debt. The commodity becomes the work that is created in society, and that debt is paid in money. Which then is used to create economy. This separates money from property, and it becomes more responsible for simply economy, the swirl of debt. The big key is that bankers and politicians are kept separate. The bankers attempt to keep it right as that is where the long term value is for them, and if they get it wrong, if it falls apart, the bankers have essentially nothing, and nothing is happening. The politicians through the power of central power get to impose a very special attribute to money. It can, and has to be accepted, for all debts public and private. This is a very important distinction that separates modern money from property based money. The value store in property based money is intrinsic. The value store in modern money becomes a balance of supply to work or debt. One of the big problems of this is when pooling becomes supra-economic and becomes a source of political power. This was severely limited before, it was extremely difficult for an individual to become this rich. It is much easier in this system. As it happens the economically powerful persuade for themselves to pool more of the wealth so that they have more power. Interestingly enough, this helps prevent inflation, and maybe actually keep the economy running, but it skews political power. This was supposed to be solved by confiscatory means of the government which then simply destroys the money as a fulfillment of self debt. But, this is precisely what the eco-political class works to overcome.

    Bitcoin, is more akin to commodity. It has no special governmental blessing, protection, or edict. It can't be forced to be used for paying of debt. However, the value of it isn't intrinsic, for it isn't a thing. It is attributes of a thing. It is a tulip bulb. This allows for specialized movement and tracking, but it really isn't money. However, if wealth is created in the process, then it looks like money for a wealth tracking agency of a government, and it looks like wealth when converted back into money, no matter how many steps. If the process of conversion from money, into assets or economy, and then back into money for the purpose of obscuring the source and path of the original money, THAT is money laundering. And if the scheme tends to have that as an inherent purpose, the scheme itself can be declared illegal. This has happened a lot with insurance, banking, strip clubs, car washes. You see a ton of it sensationalized in the Sopranos. A very important place where this has been enforced, but received a lot of different views, though clear in the charging and investigation papers, was online poker. The money laundering claim doesn't require bit coin to be money. And if the entire scheme seems to be largely leverageable for laundering, and little other purpose it can be shut down for that reason. If the scheme is largely used to defraud regular unsuspecting public in can be shut down, not just for theft, but the scheme itself. Barry Madoff, Fulltilt, AB/UB are current examples. Bitcoin and crypto currency of sorts may very well find that same fate.

    • Money is nothing more than the control of a nations' debt in the form of imaginary numbers which is why the FEDs can print endless amounts of it. Currency on the other hand is a 'medium of exchange' which is exactly what bitcoin is. While money is a form of debt aka financial slavery. Case in point, the value of the US Dollar has continuously dropped for the past hundred years because of monetary practices: http://www.intellectualtakeout... [intellectualtakeout.org]
  • Of course bitcoin is a form of laundering. But then again, monetarism is a form of financial enslavement by a central entity which of course is the exact opposite of what bitcoin is since it's completely decentralized among other things. All in all, this argument of whether or not bitcoin is 'money' is moot given the fact that it is under no centralized control...That and money is not a currency given the fact that it's simply an imaginary number invented by those in control of a nations debt. However, bit

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