WASHINGTON — Whether bitcoin is actual currency is at the forefront of a first-of-its-kind money-laundering case in Florida to be decided Wednesday.
In February 2014, Michel Espinoza was arrested in a Miami Beach motel for agreeing to sell $30,000 worth of bitcoin to an undercover police officer he had met on an exchange site called LocalBitcoins.com.
Prosecutors charged that Espinoza violated Florida statutes on money laundering and for operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
But the defense has argued that these laws do not apply to Espinoza’s case, because he was not selling currency — he was selling bitcoin.
“It’s just like you selling your own personal property,” Rene Palomino Jr., Espinoza’s attorney, said in a court filing. “Since bitcoins are ‘goods,’ Espinoza’s alleged conduct is excluded from the definition of the term ‘money transmitter’ ” under both state and federal law.
The case highlights a conundrum that has confused digital currency companies and state regulators alike: how to deal with a digital asset that is not a legal tender but can still hold value.
“Florida is dealing with the same definitional