Miami money-laundering case may define whether Bitcoin is really money


MAY 27, 2016

In a Miami money-laundering case that is being closely watched around the world, an economics professor took to the witness stand Friday to offer a tutorial on the widely known, if poorly understood, virtual currency known as Bitcoin. The takeaway: Bitcoin isn’t really money, professor Charles Evans said. No central government or bank backs Bitcoin, like the United States does the dollar. Government regulation of Bitcoin remains a messy hodgepodge from state to state, country to country. The IRS considers Bitcoin deals no more than bartering, he said. “Basically, it’s poker chips that people are willing to buy from you,” said Evans, a Barry University economics professor who, yes, was paid $3,000 worth of Bitcoins for his appearance as a defense witness.

The hearing unfolded in the case of Michell Espinoza, who is accused of illegally selling and laundering $1,500 worth of Bitcoins to undercover detectives who claimed they wanted to use them to buy stolen credit card numbers.  His lawyers, Prieto and Rene Palomino, are asking a court to dismiss the case against him, arguing that Bitcoin isn’t technically money under Florida law so laundering charges don’t apply. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler won’t decide for a few more weeks, but listened intently Friday, peppering Evans with questions and asking for more time to research.