Aidan Curry and Connor Brooke pleaded guilty in federal court today for conspiring to launder Dark Web proceeds through their unlicensed money transmitting business, which sold cryptocurrency to complete strangers in exchange for cash.
As part of their guilty pleas, the defendants agreed to forfeit tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of cash, cryptocurrency, and high-end, sophisticated hardware including computers, phones, hard drives and storage devices that were involved in the money laundering conspiracy.
Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations identified Curry and Brooke as managers of a San Diego-based business advertising the ability and willingness to sell Bitcoin (a specific type of cryptocurrency) for a premium, and always in cash, to the public. Persons who purchase or sell contraband on online black markets (also known as the “Dark Web”) use cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin to conduct transactions. Cryptocurrency provides a vendor and customer with perceived anonymity. The Dark Web is a network of encrypted communication systems that can only be accessed using special software tools. Before someone can use cryptocurrency, they must first convert their “real,” fiat currency (such as United States Dollars) into the cryptocurrency. A common way to do so is through an unlicensed money transmitting business (an “MTB”) that exchanges cryptocurrency for cash.
As admitted in the plea agreements entered today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Berg, Curry and Brooke conducted, controlled, managed, supervised, directed and owned all or part of a cryptocurrency MTB called “BayCoins.” Curry described the unlicensed MTB to an acquaintance over text messages, stating: “I’m basically like a currency exchange place for Bitcoin”; and that he and Brooke advertised their MTB on a website that was equivalent to the “Craigslist of bitcoin”.
By August 2018, BayCoins had posted two separate online solicitations – one with Curry’s information and the other with Brooke’s. The advertisements promised “quick, easy, and hassle free” Bitcoin transactions, with a “non-negotiable” five percent transaction fee, and always for cash. By accepting cash in exchange for cryptocurrency, as opposed to other forms of payment such as electronic money transfers, checks, or cash deposits into a bank account, Curry and Brooke operated their MTB in relative anonymity and evaded the anti-money laundering scrutiny of other licensed and registered financial institutions. This anonymity extended to their customers as well.
BayCoins generated sufficient profits, alongside a growing inventory of cryptocurrency, to fund the defendants’ acquisition, sale, and distribution of marijuana on various Dark Web marketplaces. After receiving payment for the marijuana, Curry and Brooke then sold the cryptocurrency for additional profit through the BayCoins unlicensed MTB.
U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said, “The United States will continue to pursue, uncover and dismantle money laundering and narcotics trafficking organizations seeking to operate behind multiple layers of anonymity – whether it’s the Dark Web, through unlicensed money transmitting businesses, or with sophisticated software. Compliance with the anti-money laundering laws of the United States is not an option. We treat knowing compliance failures for what they are: a crime. I applaud the excellent work of the federal agents and Assistant U.S. Attorneys who unraveled these complex crimes.”
“Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents worked diligently to uncover this Dark Web scheme led by Curry and Brooke that used cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin to conduct illegal transactions,” said Nick Annan, special agent in charge of HSI in San Diego. “The investigation resulting in today’s guilty plea is an excellent example of the commitment and partnership between HSI and prosecutors to seek out individuals and criminal networks who try to conceal their illicit activities under the cloak of the Dark Web.”
The investigation was led by Special Agents of Homeland Security Investigations. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Silva and Colin McDonald.
Sentencing is scheduled to occur on January 6, 2020. Curry and Brooke both face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 19-CR-3839-GPC
Aidan Curry San Diego, CA Age: 23
Connor Brooke San Diego, CA Age: 25
SUMMARY OF CHARGES*
Money Laundering Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1956(h)
Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $500,000 fine
Homeland Security Investigations
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.