Six New Hampshire residents are reportedly facing federal indictment because of an elaborate scheme that allowed people to exchange over $10 million for digital currencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH).
The US District Court indictment alleges that the co-conspirators had tricked or deceived financial institutions by leading them to believe that their accounts were intended for receiving Church or religious donations. The defendants had claimed that the funds would be used to carry out church outreach activities. However, these accounts were reportedly used to operate businesses associated with an illegal digital currency exchange.
While conducting these activities, the defendants allegedly used personal accounts or accounts created for “religious” entities such as the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of NH, the Church of the Invisible Hand, and the Reformed Satanic Church.
On Tuesday morning (March 16, 2021), the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) raided various Keene properties that are linked with a libertarian-type group, called the Free Keene. The FBI conducted the raids at 1 p.m. and the US Attorney’s Office noted in a release the names of the individuals being indicted by a federal grand jury. The defendants are being charged for taking part in a conspiracy to operate an illegal money transmitting service and have also been charged for “other offenses.”
The individuals being indicted include: Ian Freeman (previously Ian Bernard), 40, of Keene; Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead; Renee Spinella, 23, of Derry; Andrew Spinella, 35, of Derry; Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 52, of Keene; Aria DiMezzo (formerly James Baker), 34, of Keene.
DiMezzo identifies as a “transsexual, satanist anarchist” who had been running as a Republican candidate for Cheshire County sheriff last year, but lost. Meanwhile, Freeman and Nobody ran for Governor.
Documents submitted to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office noted that Freeman is chairperson of the Board of Directors of Shire Free Church Monadnock in Keene. The government had reportedly given notice in the indictment, stating that “once convicted,” it will aim to have Freeman give up all property and proceeds acquired from the illicit activities.
Freeman, Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, and Nobody have been charged with committing wire fraud and taking part in a conspiracy to carry out wire fraud. Freeman has been charged with money laundering and running a financial crimes business.
Additionally, Freeman and DiMezzo have been charged with running a money transmitting business without approval or applicable license. The indictment states that the business in question had violated federal AML guidelines.
The indictment further states that the conspirators made many attempts to avoid detection or being caught by intentionally not answering questions from service providers regarding the true nature of their operations. The defendants have also been charged with deceiving financial service providers by making them believe that their illegal digital currency exchange service was “a religious organization receiving charitable contributions.”
Freeman, Renee Spinella, Colleen Fordham and the other defendants are being charged for (inaccurately) telling financial institutions that their accounts were created for accepting church donations and to perform church outreach. Instead, “the accounts were opened to function, and did in fact function, as operating accounts for their unlawful virtual currency exchange business,” the indictment alleged.
Freeman and others are also being charged for telling their clients to intentionally lie to financial institutions regarding the digital currency transactions. Clients were also reportedly told to try and hide that they were purchasing these virtual currencies. In certain cases, they were told to make false claims that the payments were being made for church-related activities.
The defendants had allegedly advertised digital currency for sale via online platforms such as P2P exchange LocalBitcoins and also operated digital currency ATMs in New Hampshire, the case prosecutors claim.
The wire fraud charges state that the accused had been plotting a scheme to defraud financial institutions such as Service Credit Union, Cheshire County Federal Credit Union, Wells Fargo, TD Bank, FGA Federal credit Union, First Tech Federal Credit Union, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.
As reported by Manchester Ink Link, the case has been reviewed by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service along with assistance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The case has been brought by the Assistant US Attorneys Georgiana L. MacDonald and Seth R. Aframe.
The FBI raided the several properties including 75 Leverett St. and Marlboro Road (Route 101). Shire Free Church Monadnock is located at 73 and 75 Leverett St.
The church has been running two different businesses, according to the NH Secretary of State website. They include the Free Talk Live, a “religious media ministry of the Shire Free Church” and Bitcoin Embassy NH, located at 661 Marlboro St., which has been raided as well by FBI agents.
Around 5 years back, the FBI had also raided the Leverett Street property and has managed to seize items during a search that found defendants being in possession of (with potential intention to distribute) child pornography.
The FBI reportedly managed to track one individual who had been in maintaining a Virginia child pornography site. The site was connected to an IP address that has been assigned to Free Talk Live, which is Freeman’s radio show that was aired from the property on Leverett Street.
Keene Sentinel notes that an affidavit in the case revealed that Freeman had been living at the property and was also linked or associated with the radio show. However, they were unable to find any direct evidence that he actually went on the porn site. As expected, he has denied any involvement while pointing out that others may have had access to the house’s network as well.
No arrest was made and Freeman has not faced any federal-level charges with anything that involved the raid.
During the last year, other Keene residents have come under the FBI’s radar, which has led to several arrests.
Jason Riddle, 32, was recently taken into police custody for his alleged role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Riddle is now facing federal charges of intentionally entering restricted buildings without authorization, theft of government-owned property and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. This, according to a complaint submitted to the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
Riddle told media outlets that he had consumed wine that was stolen from a policymaker’s liquor cabinet during these incidents.
In February 2021, a federal judge sentenced Christopher Cantwell, 39, of Keene to 3 years in prison for his alleged role in threatening and trying to extort funds from another white supremacist.
Cantwell is known as “the crying Nazi,” after he reacted rather emotionally to being charged for his role in the 2017 white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia where an innocent woman was murdered.