The hotel room was wired with cameras and microphones, and in it sat $30,000 in fake $100 bills. Miami Beach Detective Ricardo Arias, working undercover as an identity thief, flipped them in front of Michell Abner Espinoza. A “flash-roll,” it’s called, the kind you see in the movies where bad guys flick through wads of cash before holding it up in the air.
For that $30,000, Espinoza had agreed to sell a slew of bitcoins, the almost unregulated virtual currency, which Arias’s character said he would exchange for stolen Russian credit-card numbers.
The sting was designed to catch Espinoza, then 30 of Miami, laundering money. Florida law prohibits using financial transactions to “promote” illicit activity, such as, in this case, credit-card fraud.
Ultimately, Arias arrested Espinoza on three felony counts of money laundering, capping a three-month investigation in 2014 into South Florida’s exchange of computerized money.
But a Florida circuit-court judge ruled Monday that bitcoin is not money at all. And if you don’t have money, you can’t exactly launder it.