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"Bitcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money," Florida state court judge Teresa Mary Pooler said in a recent money-laundering decision. The conclusion should be clear to anyone, her court said, with even "limited knowledge in the area."
The decision is an interesting one that will probably end up only having limited geographical import legally. Still, it does deal a blow to the PR campaign that Bitcoin has been trying to mount ever since the crypto-currency got associated with Silk Road's illicit criminal activity.
The Florida case arises out of charges of conspiracy. Michell Espinoza was charged with crimes related to conspiracy to sell $1,500 in Bitcoins to undercover detectives who told Espinoza during their operation that they intended to use the money to purchase stolen credit cards. Under Florida law, one is guilty of money laundering if he or she knowingly participates in a "financial transaction" that promotes illegal activity.
The issue of Espinoza's mens rea is hardly in dispute. What is in dispute, however, is whether or not a sale of Bitcoins can be considered a financial transaction. According to judge Pooler, it isn't. Why? Because in her opinion, Bitcoin is not a currency. And the definition of "money" is crucial in making the law Espinoza was charged with stick.
No surprise, Espinoza's lawyer was happy. And there are those who feel that the decision is incongruous because it should not matter if Bitcoins are currency or not, despite being the medium of choice for libertarians, anarchists, and big-time criminals.
But the judge's decision was well thought out. The way the word "promote" as used within the law was indeed vague, as the judge found. This raises its own constitutional issues. Still, one has to wonder how criminals will fare when the applicable Florida laws are being used in charging those who engage in electronic-money fraud?
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