Unlicensed Bitcoin exchange operator faces up to 25 years in prison


A California man faces 25 years in federal prison for moving $13 million worth of Bitcoin, along with tens of millions of dollars in cash, through an unregistered company.

Authorities charged Hugo Mejia on Friday with failing to list his crypto for cash business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the arm of the US Treasury responsible for collecting and analyzing info relating to financial crimes.

He immediately filed a plea agreement which sees him cop to money laundering charges, too.

According to the deal, Mejia’s business operated for more than two years, between mid-2018 and September 2020, with the 49-year-old paying himself hefty commission on each transaction. 

He conducted most of his business via encrypted messaging apps and face-to-face meetings in coffee shops. Mejia even reportedly set up a number of seemingly on-the-level companies to mask his illicit activities.

Police busted Mejia in a sting operation after repeatedly meeting with a client working undercover with law enforcement.

In particular, Mejia conducted five Bitcoin-to-cash transactions worth $250,000 for the informant, who claimed to be acting on behalf of an Australian meth dealer.

[Read more: UK law funnels Bitcoin to ransomware gangs, says expert]

In addition to facing a statutory 25-year prison sentence when he pleads guilty, Mejia will hand over all illegally-acquired assets, including $234,000 in cash, silver coins and bars, and approximately $96,000 in various cryptocurrencies.

The case is US authorities’ second big win in as many weeks, after a Bulgarian national was sentenced to 10 years over laundering profits for a large-scale fraud that sucked in more than 900 Americans through crypto exchanges.