Ian Freeman outside of the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire, in April 2023.
NBC 10 Boston
A New Hampshire libertarian activist and radio show host convicted of using bitcoin to launder tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from romance scams and internet fraud was ordered to pay more than $3.5 million in restitution to 29 primarily elderly victims, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The launderer, Ian Freeman also was ordered by a judge to forfeit other assets as restitution for the scheme, which among other things used several churches to receive money from victims under the guise of being donations before it was swapped for cryptocurrency, prosecutors said.
The assets included about 5.24 bitcoin currently valued at more than $258,000 and about $1.1 million in U.S. currency, the order in U.S. District Court in New Hampshire shows.
Freeman, 43, who had long promoted bitcoin as an alternative to the U.S. dollar, was sentenced in October to eight years in federal prison for his role in the scam conspiracy as part of a group dubbed “Crypto Six.” He also was fined $40,000.
Prosecutors said that he laundered proceeds of scams by exchanging dollars for the popular cryptocurrency, charging “exorbitant fees” in the process.
Freeman earned more than $1 million through his business, which he had not registered as legally required with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, prosecutors said.
“Ian Freeman’s money laundering business caused many vulnerable people unnecessary anguish,” said New Hampshire U.S. Attorney Jane Young in a statement on the order by U.S. District Judge Joseph Laplante.
“Nothing will ever take away the pain he caused these victims, but I am grateful that the dedicated prosecution team on this case was able to make many of them financially whole.
“Freeman and his co-conspirators opened and operated accounts at financial institutions in the names of various churches including the Shire Free Church, the Church of the Invisible Hand, the Crypto Church of New Hampshire, and the NH Peace Church,” Young’s office said in a statement.
“Freeman instructed bitcoin customers, who were often victims of scams, to lie to the financial institutions and describe their deposits as church donations. From 2016 to 2019, he paid no taxes, and concealed his income from the Internal Revenue Service,” the office said.
At trial, jurors were shown evidence that Freeman kept a folder on his computer containing images of victims of the romance scams, many of them older women.
At his sentencing, one of his victims, a Florida widow named Karen Miller, told Judge Laplante that she was scammed by a man she met on a dating site, who instructed her to send $300,000 to Freeman, the Associated Press reported at the time. Her life savings was wiped out by that fraud, she said.
Another victim, Rebecca Vicar, said she took out three loans and sold her husband’s truck to send money in a similar scam.
“My life and countless lives have been ruined financially and emotionally,” Vicar said at the sentencing, the AP reported. She called Freeman “an ugly-hearted person.”
A 2021 New York magazine profile of Freeman, which was published when he was free on bond in the criminal case, noted that he was asked by a caller during his radio show “Free Talk Live” whether he would have done anything differently if he had known he would face criminal charges.
“Is there something I regret? I mean, of course not,” Freeman answered, according to the article.
“This is my mission,” he added. “I’ve been given this mission from God to get this alternative form of value into people’s hands.”
Three of Freeman’s co-defendants pleaded guilty in April 2022 to a single count of wire fraud: Andrew Spinella, Renee Spinella, and Nobody, also known as Richard Paul.
Andrew Spinella was sentenced to 18 months of probation, Renee Spinella to time served of one day in jail, with three months of supervised release, and Nobody was sentenced to time served of more than five months in jail, and two years of supervised release.
A fourth defendant, Aria DeMezzo, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to one count of operation of an unlicensed money-transmitting business and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, followed by a year of supervised release.