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GOP’s Murphy May be Called to Testify in Crypto 6 Case

Keith Murphy, the NHGOP’s hand-picked candidate for state Senate, could end up explaining to a jury his business relationship with the defendants in the infamous Crypto 6 money laundering case.

Ian Freeman, the last of the Keene Crypto 6 defendants headed to trial, faces more than 30 federal felony counts for his Bitcoin business operation, which included running Bitcoin ATMs in various business locations. One of those ATMs was set up in the Manchester location of Murphy’s Taproom, a restaurant owned by the senate candidate.

Freeman’s attorney says he may call Murphy as a witness for the defense.

“All I was doing was providing a little wall space for the machine,” Murphy told NH Journal.

Murphy, a former GOP state representative, was picked by state GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek to replace state Rep. Michael Yakubovich (R-Hooksett) on the November ballot for the District 16 race. Yakubovich dropped out just days after the September 13 primary due to health issues.

“It’s not how you want to be in the Senate, but that’s how it goes,” Murphy said.

Federal law enforcement agents seized the Murphy’s Taproom ATM during the March 2021 raids of several homes and businesses connected to Freeman’s activities. Freeman is accused of operating a multimillion money laundering scheme that helped facilitate online scammers, according to court documents.

Murphy said he has not been in contact with any federal law enforcement agency since the machine was removed.

Freeman’s criminal defense attorney, Mark Sisti, said Murphy may be called as a witness, but it is too early to say definitively. “I don’t know yet,” Sisti said.

 Murphy said he has not been contacted about being a potential witness.

Freeman has maintained he did nothing wrong selling the cryptocurrency through his churches and is adamant that he wants his day in court. Contacted last week, Freeman confirmed he had one of his Shire Free Church Bitcoin ATMs in Murphy’s Taproom since March of 2016.

Murphy said he was never directly involved in exchanging cash for Bitcoin or vice versa. The ATM was in the restaurant as a courtesy for some of his customers, he said.

“We had customers who wanted to pay with Bitcoin,” Murphy said. “This provided a way for them to convert their own money to Bitcoin easily.”

Murphy said he does not remember the exact details of the arrangement he had with Freeman, but said he did not make any money from the machine.

“Occasionally, they would hand me a little money to pay for the electricity. But there was no set fee for the arrangement,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s recollection runs counter to Freeman’s understanding of his own business. According to Freeman, his ATMs brought in money for the host business through a percentage of the total transactions.

“The Shire Free Church is not a business, but we obviously had to compensate our venues for the space/power/internet they provided,” Freeman said. “All our venues received one percent of gross sales from their machine. Many crypto vending machine operators only pay a flat fee per month to their venues. Our venues were very pleased with our arrangement as they did very well on busy months.”

Freeman took in millions of dollars through his Bitcoin exchanges and Bitcoin ATMs, according to court records. He allegedly used personal bank accounts and accounts for made-up churches like the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of NH, the Church of the Invisible Hand, and the Reformed Satanic Church, to operate his Bitcoin empire. Part of the scheme Freeman ran helped cyber criminals swindle money from victims of lonely heart scams, according to prosecutors.

Business was good and the government alleges Freeman has secreted away millions of dollars in cash and cryptocurrency.

Four of the other Crypto 6 defendants, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, Aria DiMezzo, and Nobody (also known as Rick Paul), have taken plea deals. The fifth suspect, Colleen Fordham, had her charges dropped earlier this year.

Illness Forces Two GOP State House Candidates Off Ballot

Two New Hampshire Republicans are stepping out of the midterm elections after getting dire medical news. 

Michael Yakubovich, a two-term state representative from Hooksett running for state Senate in the redrawn District 16, and Gary Hopper, a Weare state representative running for the Weare/Goffstown floterial district, both recently announced they are leaving politics to deal with health issues.

Yakubovich issued a statement Wednesday on his campaign website announcing his decision to step aside.

“As we approached (primary) Election Day, I began to get very sick, and my doctors were initially unable to determine why. After undergoing a battery of tests, I received an unexpected diagnosis and immediately began aggressive treatment,” Yakubovich wrote. “While my family and I are hopeful for my recovery, these treatments have temporarily incapacitated me, and I am unable to continue with my campaign.”

State GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek picked Keith Murphy, a Manchester businessman and owner of Murphy’s Taproom who is also a former state representative, to replace Yakubovich on the ballot.

“My thoughts are with Michael Yakubovich and his family during this very hard time, and I pray, along with the rest of our Republican team, for him to have a quick recovery,” Stepanek said.

Murphy said Wednesday that he is honored to take Yakubovich’s place.

“Michael knows that as a father and small business owner, I share his priorities for New Hampshire’s citizens: Lowering heat and energy costs, delivering high-quality services to Granite Staters, and fighting to keep our state government small, affordable and effective,” Murphy said. “I promise to work hard for every vote, if elected, to represent the district with integrity and enthusiasm.”

Reached Wednesday night, Hopper said he was in treatment for cancer when he signed up to run, but in recent days his cancer has taken a turn for the worse.

“The cancer treatments were working really good, and I had high hopes,” Hopper said. “But after that, the tables turned. I have terminal cancer.”

Hopper said his doctors now do not expect him to live long enough to reach the November general election.

“God has His plans,” Hopper said.

Hopper was replaced on the ballot with Liza Mazur, the Goffstown owner of an event planning business, Piper’s Cove, and a newly-nationalized American citizen from Canada.

Some Granite State politicos were surprised to learn a single person had the power to replace party nominees on the ballot. Substituting new candidates for Yakubovich and Hopper is possible under a law passed in 2013 that allows local and state party officials to change candidates after the primary election, former Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien told NHJournal. Before the 2013 law, candidates could not be removed from the ballot after the primary unless they died or moved out of their districts.

“We changed the language to allow someone’s name to be replaced if a medical condition causes the candidate not to be able to continue to run,” O’Brien said. Replacement can only occur when a candidate with incapacitation provides proof, via a doctor’s note and a sworn oath.

Under the law, a legislator with a single town or ward, the town or ward committee chair would appoint the new candidate, who must meet all conditions for candidacy.

“If it’s a multi-ward district, then the replacement is chosen by the county committee,” O’Brien said. “If it’s a state senate seat, then it’s the state party, acting through the chairman, who appoints the replacement.”

Hillsborough County GOP Chair Chris Ager picked Mazur to replace Hopper. 

“We’ve had the law since 2013 and never used it once,” O’Brien said. “Now we’ve used it twice in the same week.”

State Senate District 16 Candidates Clash: Who’s the ‘Real’ Republican?

While the GOP primary campaign for U.S. Senate is getting most of the attention, a hotly-contested Republican race for state Senate being is waged in District 16. Political observers say it is the most-watched legislative primary race of the year.

And a key debate between the two candidates is which one is the ‘real’ Republican.

Rep. Barbara Griffin (R-Goffstown) has been a GOP member of the legislature since 2014. Before getting involved in politics, however, she considered herself an independent, though she did vote in the 2008 and 2012 Democratic primaries.

Rep. Michael Yakubovich (R-Hooksett), a self-described Rand Paul Republican, said he quit the GOP in 2016 when the Kentucky senator dropped out of the presidential primary and pulled a Democratic ballot — casting his vote for Vermin Supreme. He also voted in the state Democratic primary that year, records show.

Griffin, who points to her work to create a winnable legislative district map for Republicans as chair of the redistricting committee says she has always been very conservative.

“I’ve been a gun owner for many years, and a member of the NRA for many years. When someone brings this up, I say to them, ‘Show me something I’ve done that makes you think I’m a liberal Democrat.’”

State Rep. Michael Yakubovich

Yakubovich, first elected to the House in 2018, told NH Journal he has been a solid Republican for nearly his entire life in America.

“I have voted for many Republicans since I escaped Communism and became a United States citizen in 1995,” Yakubovich said.

The dispute over their partisan standing comes because at one time both Griffin and Yakubovich were registered Democrats.

Griffin grew up in a Republican house, with parents who attended an inauguration party for President Richard Nixon. She registered as “undeclared,” but when she voted in a Democratic primary, she said she forgot to switch back to undeclared and did not think about it until she decided to get into state politics. That was when she made sure her party affiliation matched her true beliefs, she said.

Yakubovich admitted he voted in the Democratic primary in 2016, but said it was just a protest. “I did not ‘switch parties’ – my intention always was to remain as a Republican.”

Yakubovich has said that in the past he voted for Vermin Supreme, a performance artist known for wearing a rubber boot for a hat and promising to give away ponies if elected. Asked by NHJournal to confirm that vote, he declined to answer the question.

Whether or not either Griffin or Yakubovich were ever committed Democrats, the two current Republicans have very different voting records.

Griffin has put together a conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment record in her time in the State House, according to Sen. Regina Birdsell (R-District 19). She is endorsing Griffin, as are other conservative stalwarts like Sen. Kevin Avard (R-District 12), Birdsell said.

“She’s what we need in the state Senate. I fully endorse her,” Birdsell said.

Birdsell said she is convinced of Griffin’s conservative bona fides based on her record as a lawmaker. She was not concerned about any Democratic past, as many prominent Republicans had been Democrats in their youth.

“A lot of us were Democrats before we were Republicans. Including myself, including Ronald Reagan, including Donald Trump,” Birdsell said.

While Griffin casts herself as a traditional conservative, Yakubovich tilts libertarian in his votes and has won the endorsement of the libertarian-leaning organization Americans for Prosperity. Greg Moore, AFP state director, said Yakubovich is exactly the right person for the Senate.

“Michael Yakubovich is an incredibly effective and important legislator who has, in his two terms in the House, shown that he has been one of the best leaders for delivering on low taxes, limited spending, reducing regulation, and growing the New Hampshire Advantage,” he said. “We’re thrilled to endorse him so that he can bring those same skills to the Senate and become a leader there.”

On the Second Amendment issue, Yakubovich supporters note that Griffin scored a B with the NRA’s Political Victory Fund this year, while Yakubovich scored an A. The group did not endorse in the race. Similarly, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition graded Griffin with a B-, and gave Yakubovich an A.

Yakubovich’s libertarian approach has led him to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats on legalizing marijuana. And he voted against a bill to charge people who pay to have sex with children with a class A felony. More recently, Yakubovich voted against GOP-backed attempts to fix the recently passed bail reform law that some say has allowed too many repeat offenders back on the street.

Last week, Daniel Whitmore, 75, of Manchester was stabbed to death on a walking trail near Bradley Street. The suspect in the murder is homeless man Raymond Moore, 40. He was arrested twice this summer; once in July in Nashua for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and again in August in Manchester in another apparent stabbing incident. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig took to Twitter to decry the lenient bail system in New Hampshire that let Moore out of jail.

“Our criminal justice system cannot continue releasing violent offenders back onto our streets. I, once again, urge our legislators to act quickly and address this issue. The safety of our residents is at stake,” Craig said.

Griffin, who supports bail reform, said law and order is part of the New Hampshire Advantage and that GOP politicians need to support getting tough on crime.

“I know the chaos it creates in the city of Manchester and our communities,” she said. “This murder could have been avoided.”