Bitcoin ATM

The FBI has removed this Bitcoin ATM machine from Murphy’s Taproom on Elm Street. It was installed in 2016 by a company connected to the leader of Free Keene.

MANCHESTER — A Bitcoin ATM connected to an FBI raid last week in Keene has been removed from Murphy’s Taproom on Elm Street.

Last week, the FBI arrested Free Keene leader Ian Freeman and five others who are part of the libertarian movement on charges related to an unlicensed cryptocurrency exchange they ran through churches they were closely affiliated with.

The cryptocurrency vending machine (CVM) in Manchester was installed by Bitcoin Embassy NH, which is connected to the Shire Free Church, according to business records. The group has operated the machine at Murphy’s since 2016.

Unlike a traditional ATM, CVMs sell the virtual currency for cash, like other vending machines. This particular machine did not allow users to trade Bitcoin or other crypto currencies for cash.

The company — which collected fees for its service — also operated CVMs out of its headquarters at 661 Marlborough St. and My Campus Convenience in Keene.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Georgina MacDonald said during a bail hearing last week that Freeman used accounts set up for the Shire Free Church, where he is paid as the minister, to convert dollars that others acquired from romance fraud, investment fraud and your-friend’s-in-jail fraud to Bitcoin.

The group processed more than $10 million since 2016, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A spokesperson for the office would not comment on the machine removed Tuesday afternoon because of the ongoing investigation.

Keith Murphy, owner of the restaurant, said one of Freeman’s “associates” asked to place the machine there about five years ago. He has accepted Bitcoin at the restaurant since at least 2014 and thought the machine would pair well with the ATM on premise.

“I showed up to work, and (FBI agents) were waiting for me and they took the machine,” he said. “It wasn’t my machine, so I really didn’t have an objection.”

Murphy, who previously served as a Republican state representative from Bedford, said he started accepting Bitcoin payments after several customers requested it. He said there are no fees associated with accepting Bitcoin.

“For me, it is an added convenience for my customers,” he said.

CVMs are often found at gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants. There are more than a dozen in Manchester alone, according to Google.

Beginning in the spring of 2016, prosecutors said, the Free Keene group opened bank accounts for the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of New Hampshire, the Church of the Invisible Hand and the Reformed Satanic Church.

Freeman said earlier this year that the Bitcoin transaction business funds the activities of the Shire Free Church.

The FBI raided two properties in Keene associated with the Free Keene group on March 16. The first was the Marlborough Street Bitcoin embassy operated by the group, and the second was a duplex on the corner of Leverette and River streets, home of Freeman and his Shire Free Church.

The others arrested were Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead; Renee Spinella, 23, of Derry; Andrew Spinella, 35, of Derry; Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 52, of Keene; and Aria DiMezzo, 34, of Keene, who ran for Cheshire County sheriff in 2020.

DiMezzo was charged with participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Freeman, Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella and Nobody are charged with participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, wire fraud and participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Freeman also is charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise.

A U.S. magistrate is expected to rule soon on a bail request from Freeman.

Freeman has accessed $1.66 million worth of Bitcoin and had $178,000 in cash in his safe when his house was raided by federal authorities last week, prosecutors said on Friday.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021