Bitcoin Fog crypto mixer founder guilty of money laundering, jury finds

Roman Sterlingov is the latest to fall to a U.S. government crackdown on illicit crypto-mixing services, but his lawyers aren’t taking the verdict lying down.

The founder of Bitcoin Fog, a massive $400 million crypto-mixing service, was convicted of money laundering in a United States District Court on Tuesday, March 12 — the latest win in the government’s crackdown on crypto mixers and their founders.

Roman Sterlingov, 35, was found guilty of money laundering, money laundering conspiracy, operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and violations of the D.C. Money Transmitters Act.

Sterlingov, however, had argued throughout the trial that he was only a user of the service, and not its operator. His attorney, Tok Ekeland said in a March 12 X post that his team will appeal the verdict.

According to evidence presented at the trial, Sterlingov operated Bitcoin Fog from October 2011 to April 2021, which acted as a money laundering service for “criminals seeking to hide their illicit proceeds from law enforcement.”

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Source: FBI Washington Field on X

The service moved over 1.2 million Bitcoin over the decade-long operation — worth $400 million at the time of the transactions — with the bulk of cryptocurrency coming from darknet marketplaces tied to narcotics, computer fraud abuse and identity theft, the government said. Bitcoin Fog also served distributors of child sexual abuse material.

Evidence used to convict Sterlingov found that the “vast majority” of crypto deposited to his crypto exchange accounts came from “Bitcoin clusters” associated with Bitcoin Fog.

“Evidence presented at trial clearly showed that the defendant laundered hundreds of millions of illicit funds from the dark web through Bitcoin Fog in an attempt to conceal the origin of those funds,” said Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation Chief Jim Lee.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division also stated that the division is “committed to unmasking and prosecuting those who use technology to hide their crimes, no matter how sophisticated the scheme may be.”

J.W. Verret, a professional witness in the case, has also pledged to help Sterlingov’s appeal. Verret has long argued that the on-chain forensics used to accuse Sterlingov is flawed.

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Source: @llamaonthebrink on X
“The trial lasted four weeks. I testified for a full day and I worked on the case for a year,” said Verret, adding:

“The verdict, issued March 12, was ‘guilty.’ They say it four times as the four counts of the indictment are read. It felt like I was punched in the stomach. The only way my brain can process it is to focus on strategies for appeal.”
The jury has granted forfeiture of assets seized from the crypto mixer, which includes 1,354 BTC held in a Bitcoin Fog wallet and nearly $350,000 in various cryptocurrencies held in a seized Kraken account.

The most serious charges — money laundering conspiracy and money laundering sting — each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while the other two charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sentencing is set for July 15.

Related: Over $300M in stolen crypto assets reached Bitcoin mixers in 2023

Another crypto mixer founder is set to face trial later this year.

Roman Storm, the co-founder of controversial cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash which was sanctioned in August 2022, is set to face a criminal trial in September.

The Tornado Cash co-founder faces three charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business and conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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