Originally published at: Crypto Six Sentencing Statement | Free Keene
It’s been two-and-a-half years since the outrageous raid against half-a-dozen peaceful advocates of cryptocurrency here in New Hampshire, now known as “The Crypto Six“. Sadly, federal court rules prohibit any kind of recording of court proceedings, so I’m sharing with you the text of what I intend to read in court prior to the judge issuing his sentence on my now seven victimless crime convictions, as he tossed one of the worst two convictions out a couple of weeks ago. Here it is:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak here today. I hope you can appreciate that I’m in a bit of an awkward position. Normally apologies and acceptance of responsibility are expected from a defendant at a sentencing hearing. I have been convicted on all eight counts I faced in trial by a jury of twelve other human beings. Since that time, this court has thankfully overturned my wrongful conviction on the money laundering count. We are going to be appealing the remaining seven convictions on the basis that the prosecution never proved a single one of them. So, I can’t apologize for those things, as I do not believe I broke the law. Regardless, the jury found me guilty despite the defects in the prosecutors’ case, so there is something in their opinion to be acknowledged. I don’t know if they didn’t like me or didn’t believe me, but they thought I deserved to be found guilty – and I have to accept that there was some reason they did that, whether I like it or not.
There is something I do want to apologize for however, and that is that I failed to detect and prevent 100% of scam victims from using my services. For that, I am sorry. To the extent that my screening and know-your-customer procedures failed to alert me and the victims to what was happening to them, I take full responsibility for my failure and would like to request the court direct any fine toward the scammers’ victims, instead of the government.
In their recent sentencing memorandum, the prosecution accused me of never having a real job. The truth is, I’ve worked several years at K-Mart and several at multiple radio stations, including several working for Clear Channel Communications, now known as iHeartRadio. That is where I began my now nationally syndicated talk radio program in 2002, that they insultingly call a “hobby”, simply because its revenue is down from its previous heights. They act as though I could be heard on over 170 radio stations nationwide without any history in the industry or having ever lifted a finger. They obviously know nothing about entrepreneurship and the countless hours I have invested in building and maintaining the studio, calling radio stations to get them to carry our show, running our website and online presence, and then actually performing the show three hours a night, several days every week, which I have done for two decades of my life. My show is my life’s work, and it’s completely unnecessary to their case to belittle it. We have been honored by TALKERS Magazine, the top industry publication, with inclusion into their “Heavy Hundred” for over a decade. It’s a list of the most influential talk show hosts in America. This year we ranked at number 25. TALKERS also awarded me with their coveted “Freedom of Speech Award” in 2022, an annual award that has gone to approximately 30 talk hosts in the last few decades including Rush Limbaugh.
The have also insulted my religion and my church, simply because they don’t understand it, or pretend not to. While we don’t utilize a traditional religious meeting space, we did provide one, free of charge, to the local Muslim community, as our witness Mohammed Ali testified. This is because the Shire Free Church, like the Unitarian Universalists, is an interfaith church. Our ministers in Keene conduct their ministry via broadcast media, as many television and radio churches have done for decades. Our church has donated to multiple charities including the Hundred Nights Homeless shelter, Liberty in North Korea, and were instrumental in building an orphanage in Uganda. Multiple local business owners testified under oath and via written letter, that I provided all my cryptocurrency consulting services to them free of charge, as this was also part of my church mission. Despite the prosecutors’ claims that I’m the only minister, we actually have multiple and they have presided over multiple weddings, including the very witness they had falsely testify that the church isn’t real. Despite the prosecutors’ claim that the Church only existed to confuse banks, the Shire Free Church was founded a year prior to my inspiration to launch our first vending machine in Keene, and three years before my first localbitcoins sale.
However, the most insulting part about the case against me is the idea that I was conspiring with fraudsters to assist them in their evil deeds. The prosecutors’ case attempted to have it both ways – on one hand they said advertising that I respected privacy was an invitation to criminals, but then they showed some of the detailed requirements I put buyers through to verify their identities and alert them to what they were buying and how. What they did not show the jury was my list of questions I had developed to ask people prior to selling them bitcoin. The questions specifically identified different types of scams and required the buyer to confirm they were not being victimized.
It’s worth pointing out that my procedure was more in depth than any of the banks who also sent away the scam victims’ life savings, yet the bank tellers and managers were not arrested.
Unfortunately, it took me some time to develop these procedures as I learned slowly of the different types of scams. There was no how-to-manual to read when I started this and initially I was the direct target of the scammers, who used my bank info to pay credit card bills or car payments. Since the banks never told me why they were closing my accounts, it kept me in the dark much longer about what was happening to a small percentage of my buyers.
The prosecution suggested during trial that the only reason I had identification procedures in place was to protect my bank accounts. While that is one reason, it’s not the only reason. The other reason is because I don’t want people to be taken advantage of. As a libertarian voluntarist, I am firmly against fraud and would never want to be a part of it. Indeed, my perfect seller ratings on localbitcoins.com were proof of my reputation for honesty. Eventually, my mission expanded beyond spreading bitcoin to include to never let a scammer get through my screening.
Sadly, no matter how strict I became or how many hoops I put in place for buyers to jump, I could not catch them all, as I learned with the case of Patrick Brown, who testified at the trial. Mr Brown said under oath that I only asked him one question when we talked on the phone prior to selling him bitcoin. However, by that time I had developed the series of questions I mentioned earlier, which included asking him if there was a third party putting him up to this and if he was under duress. He assured me he was buying the bitcoins for investment purposes on his own volition. So I sold it to him, and then he came back for a few more buys. I thought he was a satisfied, repeat customer until his bank tried to pull back one of his wires from my account. I reached out to Patrick, whose number I still have in my phone, to try to find out what happened, and eventually heard from Detective Allen Snoddy from Travis County Sheriffs. I spent a half hour on the phone with Detective Snoddy and provided any information I could to help him with his investigation, and Detective Snoddy explained to me what had happened to Mr. Brown. That’s when I learned that he WAS under duress as the scammers were threatening him and pretending to be federal government agents. It was in my conversation with Detective Snoddy that I learned Patrick Brown lied to me to get me to sell him bitcoin.
The other witnesses in the case, I had no idea were victims of scams, and I didn’t find out they had been victimized until I saw their names and stories in the discovery for this case. Karla Cino had purchased many times from me over longer than a year. She represented herself to me as a successful real estate agent who was buying for herself and eventually selling to others. I didn’t know until the trial that she’d been working with a scammer for half-a-decade and was herself acting as a money transmitter for the scammer. She kept those details from me. The same was true about Nancy Triestram – she revealed at trial she was actually working with her scammer and moved money at his behest, while keeping me in the dark. Dannela Varel was a sophisticated financial advisor by trade, but even she was fooled by a scammer. What I learned was the scammers are so persuasive, they will get their victims to lie and do anything necessary to get through my requirements – it didn’t matter how strict I was or how many questions I asked. I was also the victim of the scammers, who had their victims lie to get through my security – putting me unknowingly in the position of taking the fall for their crimes.
One more example of the dishonesty of the victims in this case came to light since the previous sentencing hearing, where Karen Miller read her letter to the court. In it, she admitted having bought bitcoin from me with other people’s money that the scammer had his victims send to Karen. Karen never told me this. Like Patrick Brown, I still have her cell phone number in my phone, as I had spoken to her more than once to make sure she was a consenting buyer, as she purchased from me multiple times. She appeared to be a wealthy businesswoman buying bitcoin for investment and business purposes. I met Karen through Rebecca Viar, who I considered to be a good customer. Karen Miller assured me in my first phone call with her that she knew Rebecca Viar personally. This turned out to be a lie. Thanks to the most recent letter filed by the prosecution from Pam Hamilton Campbell, we know Karen Miller was willing to tell lies to get what she and the scammer wanted from me, and others. In her letter, Pam Campbell stated Karen Miller “posed on the phone to me as the scammer’s sister… she and I spoke on the phone several times. She assured me that, as his sister, she was also sending him money to help him out of his situation. I would never have sent him money – $753,251 out of the kindness of my heart, had she not compelled me using the unconscionable methods via emotional blackmail, perpetrated to commit this crime.” I want to be clear, I don’t think Karen Miller was knowingly part of this scam. However, she was under this man’s spell and was willing to lie to help him. She lied to Pam Campbell to get her to send Karen money and she lied to me to get me to accept it. However, she never told me she was using other people’s money. This is yet another example of how I was tricked by the scam victims. Now these poor people think their scammer has been caught and is facing punishment, when in reality whoever “Jerry Harmon” is is still out there, probably still running the same scam and using one of the thousands of other bitcoin sellers on the peer-to-peer sites.
I am sorry those people were taken advantage of and that I couldn’t stop them all. I did stop plenty of them, however. While the prosecutors focused on a few dozen scam victims who bought bitcoin through me, they objected to me showing my user feedback on localbitcoins. This is because the only negative feedback I had was from likely scammers who were mad that my requirements were too onerous. Between my account, Renee’s, and Nobody’s accounts, we had thousands of buyers and 100% positive feedback. In addition to stopping scam victims from buying from me in the first place, my procedures were able to stop multiple scams in-process, including an elderly Doctor from Alabama who we worked with the police to get his $4,000 back to him, a young stockbroker from New York City who nearly lost $5,000, and Paul Niwa’s elderly mother Yoshino, who I saved from losing $11,000 and went through many hoops to get her the money back after the bank closed our account. The idea that I was somehow in support of scammers or tolerant of them is negated by the fact that I worked to get people their money back and worked with law enforcement on multiple occasions. Were I a part of the scam, there would be no reason to return Mrs Niwa’s money, as it was already in our bank account.
Further, the church already had plenty of bitcoins years prior to selling them, so the idea that this was all about making money from scammers is absurd – this was all about getting people to adopt bitcoins, which is why despite the prosecution’s claims of high rates, our vending machines were priced lower than any other in the region.
The prosecution would have you believe that charging 10% on localbitcoins is outrageous compared to the below 1% rate that exchanges would charge, and therefore only scammers would apply. They say this while ignoring the testimony of their own witness, Chris Rietmann who said that my prices were in line with the markets we were in and while ignoring the thousands of satisfied customers we had on that site over the years. Even prosecution’s own numbers admit only a small portion of our buyers were victims of scams. Clearly there is a demand for the personal service we provided. Further, the centralized exchanges can’t stop the scammers either. Their onboarding procedure is completely automated – there is no personal phone interview – and involves the customer handing over their social security number and their ID. Scammers can easily have their victims, who we know are willing to lie to buy bitcoin, jump through the exchange hoops. However, the exchanges have their government paperwork, so they are not facing criminal charges, just like the banks aren’t facing charges for wiring away the victims’ life savings.
Despite the prosecution’s assertions, simply advertising that one respects privacy is not an invitation to scammers, especially when paired with the ID and security requirements I had. Privacy is a right enshrined in the New Hampshire constitution’s Bill of Rights and was placed there by a supermajority of the voters in 2018, so clearly privacy is popular and not a criminal act or an unspoken conspiracy.
Their case for conspiracy to money launder was innuendo – suggesting I should have known scams were happening simply because a portion of my buyers were of retirement age. The prosecutors claim cash is a “red flag”, but people who appreciate privacy also appreciate cash. The desire for privacy is not a crime nor evidence for suspicion. Further, poor grammar on the internet is common – many people of all ages who might speak fine in real life are constantly cutting corners in their internet communications. Though third party trades are riskier, I required ID from all parties involved and even made phone calls to ask probing questions of the buyer’s agents, though the government’s witnesses didn’t recall the extent of my questions.
Assisting scams would have meant major frustration for me as unhappy buyers always led to a bank account being closed. A customer pulling back a wire also meant I would become the scammer’s victim, as I would have already sent the bitcoin and there is no way to reverse a bitcoin transaction like one can a bank transfer. There is simply no reason I would have wanted these difficulties to happen more often and working with scammers or trying to attract them, would have ensured it happened more often than it did.
In order to prove the count of money laundering conspiracy with the scammers, they would have to prove willful blindness, as no other evidence was presented. To prove willful blindness they had to prove I consciously and deliberately avoided learning facts in question. Given I had a rigorous set of Know Your Customer requirements in place, it was clear I was trying to catch and prevent scammers. Further, I had assisted law enforcement in their investigations of those scammers. Additionally when I was able to detect a scam in progress, I was able to stop the transaction and worked to get the funds back to the scam victim, as was testified to by Paul Niwa. I was able to interdict multiple scams and make the victims whole. This is the opposite of willful blindness – this is willfully trying to stop scammers and protect my buyers.
As a longtime advocate for jury nullification, I’m well aware that juries also have the power to do what could be called “reverse jury nullification”, and convict someone who wasn’t proven guilty by the evidence. Perhaps that is what happened in this case. However, before you render your sentence, there are some important factors to consider.
The real shocking revelation from the testimony in this case was the complete lack of interest on the part of the FBI in catching or even investigating the actual scammers. On cross, Patrick Brown admitted the FBI never asked a single question about what happened to the roughly $900,000 he sent to other people or places at the behest of the scammer – $900,000 that did not go into any of my accounts. Mr. Brown stated that they never inquired about the scammer at all and had no interest in what happened to the bulk of his life savings. Karla Cino, similarly, said she’d be happy to talk to the FBI about her scammer who she admitted she was still in touch with as of the week before appearing at trial. She also said the FBI had never asked her to help provide any information about him or put them in touch with him.
I hope you will consider this very carefully in your sentence. The fact that the FBI had zero interest in catching or investigating the scammers themselves reveals the truth about this case. It was brought in bad faith. Another example of this is when the FBI first approached my ex girlfriend Renee and her then-fiancee Andy in 2018 to question them about working with me selling bitcoin, they already could have brought charges for “money transmission”, and perhaps some others, but they did not. In fact, since they didn’t charge Renee, Andy, or me at the time, we figured it was more proof we weren’t doing anything illegal and they were just on a fishing expedition hoping to find something. If you’ll recall, I was operating on my attorney Seth Hipple’s guidance letter explaining why what we were doing did not require a money transmitter license at either the state or federal level.
Throughout the case, they have acted as though this prosecution was about saving elderly victims from scammers, but if that were true, why not arrest me in 2018? Why did they wait three more years? They kept spending taxpayer dollars on investigating me with 24 hour a day surveillance and letting me continue to sell bitcoin to many hundreds more people. If this was about enforcing the law, they’d have arrested me in 2018. They also don’t actually care about the scam victims – that’s why they never asked Patrick Brown or Karla Cino anything about their scammers. They wanted to arrest a high-visibility bitcoin advocate and seller and use the maximum amount of force and intensity to take me down to show everyone what happens when you don’t ask their permission to sell bitcoin.
However, the idea that a government license matters in regards to stopping scammers is disingenuous. We learned through the witness testimony that every single one of these scam victims first went to their bank and authorized the bank tellers to send out hundreds of thousands of dollars via wire transfer in order to buy bitcoin for their scammers. It didn’t matter that the banks are registered money transmitters – they sent away these peoples’ life savings. My know your customer procedures were even more in-depth than the bankers but the scam victims lied to me like they lied to the bankers. What did it matter if the banks filled out a SAR or CTR on the transfer? They still sent the wires, because in the end, you do what the customer wants, after you’ve done your best to alert them to possible scams. It wasn’t the SARs or CTRs that alerted the FBI to the victims who testified in this case – it was my own KYC files from my laptop. Based on what I saw in discovery, the FBI had zero awareness of most of the scam victims until they started contacting the people they found in my files.
The government estimates that the scam victims lost several million dollars to their scammers via buying bitcoin from me. However, that number is the total they lost to the scammer. An average of about 10-15% went to me and my friends – the rest of it is in the scammers’ possession. Though the prosecution likes to bring up the 21% number, that was only for first-time buyers because they were the highest risk, and I subjected them to in-depth KYC requirements. Most of the regular buyers that turned out to be victims were at a 10% commission, because to me they were good, satisfied, regular buyers.
As we learned at trial, Karla Cino lost $100,000 of her own money early on in her several year long relationship with her scammer, and then she began assisting him by receiving funds from his other victims – years before opening her first trades with me. So in some of the victims’ cases, they weren’t even sending their own money, making it hard to know their own personal loss via trades with me, if any at all.
Though they are now again saying I’m a flight risk, the prosecution previously went from saying I was a threat to the community to have me wrongfully denied bail for 69 days all the way to consenting to dropping location monitoring and computer monitoring prior to trial. It’s clear I am not a threat to anyone and I can obey various restrictions, including home incarceration, without being a burden on the Probation department.
I’ve already lived under pre-and-post trial restrictions for over two years in addition to the 69 days I spent behind bars. If I have to go back to a cell as part of the sentence, my radio show and our over 170 AM&FM radio stations will be unnecessarily harmed. My co-hosts will do their best to keep things going in my absence, but no one knows the studio equipment like I do. A prison sentence for me may be the death sentence for my 20-year-old radio program. I also have a wife, Bonnie, who I love very much and my absence would harm her greatly.
While I have my criticisms of the justice system in this country, I know it is made of individuals and throughout this process, you have shown yourself to be thoughtful, fair, and willing to change your mind. Thank you for that.