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Florida Lawmakers Accepted A Bill Allowing The Conviction Of Criminals Who Use Bitcoin

On May 5, lawmakers in Florida accepted a measure that would allow authorities to convict criminals, who use bitcoin for money laundering.

According to the media outlet miamiherald.com, both the House and the Senate approved the new bill, which will await the approval of Governor Rick Scott. The new measure was submitted after a judge in Miami threw out the criminal case against a suspect who was accused of selling $1,500 worth of BTC to undercover agents who told him that they want to purchase stolen credit card information with the cryptocurrency. The defendant in the case, Michell Espinoza, was charged with illegally transmitting and laundering $1,500 worth of bitcoins. In the case, Judge Teresa Mary Pooler ruled that bitcoin was not backed by any government or bank, and was not “tangible wealth” and “cannot be hidden under a mattress like cash and gold bars,” which resulted in the case being dropped.

House Representative Jose Felix Diaz, stated that cyber criminals have taken advantage of the state’s outdated laws for “too long”. Diaz, who is sponsoring the bill, added that the current state laws are not up to date to bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that “bypasses” the traditional banking system.

The bill was created with help of Miami-Dade cybercrime prosecutors, who were forced to drop the case against Espinoza. If the measure gets approved by Scott, will add clarity to law enforcement authorities go after suspects who use virtual currencies to further illegal activities, or disguise ill-gotten wealth. On the opposing side, bitcoin advocates stated that the new bill has a negative effect on the use of the cryptocurrency. Charles Evans, a Barry University economist, and virtual currency expert, stated that bitcoin is not actually money but “nothing more than poker chips bought and sold by users”, in particular regions where the banking systems or the national currency is weak. Evans criticized that with the new measure, non-financial things like “coat checks”, Disney World tickets, and discount coupons should be also considered as money in Florida.

Law enforcement authorities throughout the United States have been struggling with the current laws that apply on bitcoin. At accepted places, including online and “offline” stores, bitcoin can be used to purchase products or services anonymously, but several exchanges offer services where users can buy or sell the cryptocurrency for national currencies. Since bitcoin is decentralized, users can purchase goods or exchange money without the involvement of a third party, including banks or credit card issuers.

Since the anonymity bitcoin provides to its users, many criminals abuse this attribute of the cryptocurrency, and use it to conduct transactions on illicit websites, from which most of them are located on the darknet. Criminals use BTC to purchase narcotics, weapons, stolen credit and debit card details, personal information, hacking services, counterfeit money, and other illicit products and services.

Under the current Florida law, money laundering can apply to a host of financial transactions designed to hide funds earned through criminal activity, or further in that activity. That includes bank deposits, wire transfers, and investments. If the new bill gets signed by Scott, “virtual currency” will be added to the definition of “monetary instruments” covered under Florida’s Money Laundering Act, which would then be defined as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format that is not a coin or currency of the United States or any other country.”

“Government regulation of bitcoin remains a messy hodgepodge from state to state, country to country, and the IRS considers bitcoin deals no more than bartering,” Evans testified before the court. According to the Miami Herald, the bitcoin advocate was paid $3,000 worth of bitcoins for his testimony in Espinoza’s case. Evans said that the cryptocurrency is “nothing more than poker chips that people are willing to buy from you.” Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler agreed with Evans, saying that the court will not convict the defendant for selling his property to somebody else “when his actions fall under a statute” that is poorly written. She added that even legal professionals have difficulties in interpreting the law.

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