Florida criminals who use the digital currencies like bitcoin could be charged with money laundering, thanks to a Florida measure passed by legislators late Friday. The bill approved by the state House and Senate is heading to the desk of Governor Rick Scott.
If the governor signs the bill into law, “virtual currency” will be added to the definition of “monetary instruments” covered under Florida’s Money Laundering Act. Bitcoin would then be defined as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format that is not a coin or currency of the United States or any other country.”
After a Miami judge threw out a criminal case against a man accused of selling $1,500 in bitcoins, lawmakers felt they needed to amend the status quo.
“Cyber criminals have taken advantage of our antiquated laws for too long,” said House Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill. “Bitcoin bypasses the traditional banking system, and our state’s laws simply had not caught up to the upsurge in criminality in the world of cybercurrency.”
Cybercrime prosecutors helped to craft the bill. If signed into law, the bill could bring more clarity to criminal cases involving the illicit use of virtual currencies
The Barry University economics and virtual currency champion, Charles Evans, is quoted by the Miami Herald explaining Bitcoin is nothing more than “poker chips” bought and sold by users.
“Before long, we might see coat checks, tickets to Disney World, and discount coupons regulated as money in Florida,” Evans said. Evans earned $3,000 as an expert witness in Espinoza’s case.
Bitcoin can be regulated similar to other financial activities – through the businesses that handle transactions. Coinbase, the world’s largest U.S. base virtual currency exchange, received a subpoena recently from the IRS to hand over information regarding its customers, for instance. As reported by CCN, fewer than 1,000 people declare bitcoin yearly.
It’s unlikely that Mr. Evan’s coat checks, tickets to Disney World and discount coupons are used for the sorts of illicit activities as Bitcoin. On the dark web, Bitcoin is used for a wide range of illicit activities, albeit early research implies its most used for cannabis purchases.
Police argue human traffickers and prostitutes use Bitcoin for Backpage.com. But, in one respect, it’s tough to imagine the ways in which bitcoin haven’t been regulated. It would seem the transmission of value (defined by its creator as ‘cash’)
Florida already sees to it that money laundering laws can be applied to numerous financial transactions used to hide funds related to criminal activity, including bank deposits, wire transfers and even investments.
Michel Espinoza’s defense argued that Bitcoin is not actually money under Florida law. Defense lawyers told the judge that no central government or bank backs Bitcoin.
Debate ensues regarding whether or not Bitcoin is a “commodity” or “property” or “money”. To be sure, Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto called it “electronic peer-to-peer cash” and the digital currency’s most boisterous supporters, like Roger Ver, consistently argue the same.
Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler disagreed, saying “this court is unwilling to punish a man for selling his property to another, when his actions fall under a statute that is so vaguely written that even legal professionals have difficulty finding a singular meaning,” she wrote.
Poler wrote in her eight-page order: “The court is not an expert in economics; however, it is very clear, even to someone with limited knowledge in the area, the Bitcoin has a long way to go before it the equivalent of money.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.