Six people involved with the libertarian Free Keene group are facing charges — including wire fraud and money laundering — related to an unlicensed cryptocurrency exchange that federal prosecutors said processed some $10 million since 2016.
Prosecutors say the six people ran an unlicensed online exchange that let people swap dollars for Bitcoin, and collected fees for their service.
The six charged are Ian Freeman (formerly 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; and Aria DiMezzo, 34, of Keene, who ran for Cheshire County sheriff in 2020.
The cryptocurrency exchange used bank accounts that purported to be for churches, lied to banks and told customers to lie to banks to keep up the ruse, prosecutors said in an indictment.
Beginning in the spring of 2016, prosecutors said, the 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 told the Union Leader earlier this year that the Bitcoin transaction business funds the activities of the Shire Free Church.
Freeman said one of his bank accounts was frozen last year as part of an investigation. He acknowledged there is fraud in the Bitcoin world, but said he was not part of that type of business.
“I’ve got what I think are pretty good procedures,” he said.
No one in the group is alleged to have defrauded clients, but prosecutors say the business involved lying to banks about the purpose of accounts.
Prosecutors say Freeman, Fordham, Renee and Andrew Spinella and Nobody told banks the accounts were for receiving church donations and paying for church expenses — but prosecutors said these were the operating accounts of the cryptocurrency business.
Authorities said those five also told their customers to lie to banks, and say deposits were donations to the churches. But, prosecutors said, the “donations” were cryptocurrency transactions.
The FBI raided two properties in Keene associated with the Free Keene group Tuesday morning. The first was the Marlborough Street Bitcoin embassy operated by the group and the second a duplex on the corner of Leverette and River streets, the home of Freeman and his Shire Free Church.
Law enforcement officials also made arrests Tuesday morning in Manchester, Derry, Alstead and Nashua, according to an FBI spokeswoman.
DiMezzo, who ran for Cheshire County sheriff in 2020, 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 is also charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise.
The Union Leader was not immediately able to reach attorneys representing any of the six people charged. All six have pleaded not guilty to all charges.