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NH Crypto King Ordered To Pay $3.5 Million To Scam Victims

Romance scam victims tricked into buying Bitcoin are getting some restitution on the eve of Valentine’s Day, with an order instructing Free Keene’s Ian Freeman to pay them $3.5 million.

The restitution order, issued by United States District Court Judge Joseph Laplante, caps the legal case against the colorful libertarian activist and Free State Project evangelist.

“Ian Freeman’s money laundering business caused many vulnerable people unnecessary anguish. Nothing will ever take away the pain he caused these victims, but I am grateful that the dedicated prosecution team on this case was able to make many of them financially whole,” United States Attorney Jane Young said. “It is rare for victims of romance scams and other international fraud schemes to have their money returned to them because of the anonymity that businesses like Ian Freeman’s offer fraudsters. I urge everyone to protect themselves and their older loved ones by learning the indicators of these types of scams so that you are better prepared to prevent being victimized.”

Freeman is already serving a nine-year prison sentence after his conviction on federal charges of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and income tax evasion. He moved more than $10 million through his exchanges, according to prosecutors.

Though he never took a direct role in swindling the mostly elderly lonely heart victims, Freeman’s Bitcoin businesses facilitated the thefts, prosecutors alleged. Freeman’s crypto exchanges were an integral part of the cons operated by several different scammers, as the conmen directed victims to buy Bitcoin from Freeman.

Freeman operated his crypto exchanges in a way that attracted criminals, and prosecutors argued, all while charging higher than normal fees. He didn’t register his exchanges with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network as required by law, he disabled the “know your customer” features on his Bitcoin kiosks, and he made sure customers did not tell him what they did with their Bitcoin, according to prosecutors.

Now, Freeman will have to pay restitution to 29 of the romance scam victims who used his service, victims like Rebecca Viar. 

“Ian Freeman was the planner and instigator of this entire scheme,” Viar said in court last year.

Viar, an elderly widow, was ripped off by an online romance scammer known as Michael Glenn Wilson. The crook, who has so far not been charged, used Freeman’s BitCoin exchanges to facilitate the crimes, according to prosecutors.

In Viar’s case, she emptied her savings account, cashed out her insurance policy, took out loans, and even sold her dead husband’s truck. Again and again, Wilson didn’t have her send the money to him but instead instructed her to go to Freeman. Through one of Freeman’s many exchanges, Viar bought Bitcoin that was then deposited into a digital wallet Wilson would empty.

Freeman tried to claim he was, in fact, another victim of the scammers while alternately saying he had no responsibility to the women who lost their savings to romance scammers.

According to Freeman’s telling, he was simply operating the Shire Free Church dedicated to spreading the Good News about Bitcoin. The victims of romance scams and other confidence tricks who started buying Bitcoin from his exchanges were trained by their scammers to lie to Freeman to get around his security system, making him an unwitting accomplice to the scams, he claimed in court last year.

“I’m sorry those people were taken advantage of, and I couldn’t stop them all,” Freeman said.

Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said Freeman cannot avoid his responsibility anymore.

“While no amount of money can make up for the emotional toll Mr. Freeman’s actions have inflicted, it does ensure that he has been held both criminally and financially responsible for what he did. The FBI will never stop working to shut down fraud schemes like this one to protect older folks and help them hang on to their hard-earned money.”

Freeman, whose birth name is Ian Bernard, was one of the early settlers in New Hampshire as part of the libertarian movement known as the Free State Project, though he’s no longer part of it. The Free State Project distanced itself from Freeman in 2014 after his repeated public statements in favor of lowering the age of consent for legal sexual activity.

After getting booted from the FSP, Freeman founded the Free Keene community that’s home to former gubernatorial candidate Nobody, originally Rich Paul; Aria DiMezzo, the self-identified “Trans, Satanic, Anarchist” who ran for Cheshire County Sheriff as a Republican; and Chris Cantwell, the alt-right podcaster known as the Crying Nazi.

Both Nobody and DiMezzo ended up pleading guilty for their roles in Freeman’s Bitcoin empire. Cantwell was recently released from federal prison after he was found guilty of threatening another online white supremacist. Cantwell is currently back in New Hampshire and trying to revive his online media career.

Freeman Sentenced to 8 Years for Bitcoin Scheme

Ian Freeman walked into the courtroom Monday to a standing ovation from his libertarian supporters and walked out in handcuffs, facing eight years in federal prison.

What led the former Free State Project leader and self-described peace activist to a prison sentence for the better part of a decade? According to Judge Joseph LaPlante, it was Freeman’s faith in his own libertarian/voluntarist ideas.

“It’s not that the ideology caused the crime, but the ideology caused him to lose perspective,” LaPlante said.

After taking millions of dollars from elderly and desperate people being victimized by online scammers, Ian Freeman told United States District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante that he was a victim in the Bitcoin conspiracy case.

“I was also a victim of the scammers,” Freeman told LaPlante.

According to Freeman’s telling, he was simply operating the Shire Free Church dedicated to spreading the Good News about Bitcoin when the victims of romance scams and other confidence tricks started buying the cybercurrency from his exchange. Those victims were trained by their scammers to lie to Freeman to get around his security system, making him an unwitting accomplice to the scams.

“I’m sorry those people were taken advantage of, and I couldn’t stop them all,” Freeman said. 

But Assistant United States Attorney Georgiana MacDonald told LaPlante that Freeman was a manipulative liar who knew exactly what he was doing when he set up his BitCoin exchange. 

“He is an expert conman who has a spin for everything and who executed a very clever scheme,” MacDonald said.

The state alleged that Freeman set up his Bitcoin exchange using various entities like the Shire Free Church to conceal what he was doing — laundering money for online criminals. He advertised his commitment to “privacy” and even let the world know he would exchange Bitcoin for Nigerian currency. At the same time, Freeman charged exorbitant fees between 10 and 20 percent, enriching himself along the way.

“He knew what he was doing,” MacDonald said. 

Most mainstream cryptocurrency exchanges charge less than one percent for transactions. MacDonald said Freeman bought his Bitcoin through legitimate exchanges with far lower fees. Freeman was open to attracting criminals to his exchange, she said. The scammers would have victims buy Bitcoin directly from Freeman and deposit it in their digital wallets. The scammers would then cash out the Bitcoin, essentially without a trace.

“Why were scam victims from all over the country buying from Ian Freeman?” MacDonald said. 

A jury convicted Freeman on eight felony counts, including conspiracy to launder money obtained through wire fraud, connected to his Bitcoin exchange. Freeman disputed that he knowingly participated in the scams but acknowledged that the jury voted to convict. That meant they either did not like him or did not believe him, Freeman said.

“I have to accept that,” Freeman said.

His wife, Bonnie Freeman, insisted her husband would never hurt anyone. She said that his business was part of his Shire Free Church, which sought to change the world for the better through Bitcoin.

“Bitcoin is sacred to us,” Bonnie Freeman said.

Freeman’s attorneys, Mark Sisti and Richard Guerriero, plan to appeal the convictions.

Freeman started the day facing up to 21 years in prison. But LaPlante said the sentencing range for the case was out of line with the conduct, calling that amount of time unreasonable in this case.

While Freeman was seeking 38 months, or a little more than three years, LaPlante said the 96-month sentence he imposed was appropriate. LaPlante denied Guerrireo and Sisti’s motion to delay the sentence pending the appeal, saying they are unlikely to get the sentence overturned or reduced on appeal.

“I can’t see that happening,” LaPlante said.

Freeman was arrested in 2021 when federal agents raided his home and businesses associated with his Bitcoin exchange. Five other people were arrested along with Freeman in the case, earning the nickname the “Crypto 6” in libertarian circles. All of the other members of the Crypto 6 either had charges dropped or took plea deals, resulting in minimal prison sentences. 

Aria DiMezzo, 35, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after she took a plea deal earlier this year. Rich Paul, 56, Renee Spinella, 28, and Andrew Spinella, 37, all pleaded guilty as well and have served their sentences. Paul was in the group of supporters who filled the courtroom Monday. U.S. Marshals admonished him due to his emotional outbursts in court.

The sixth suspect, Colleen Fordham, 65, had the charges against her dropped.

Freeman, DiMezzo, and Nobody are all part of the Free Keene collective, an offshoot of the Free State Project. The group made a show of kicking Freeman out of the movement in 2014 after he repeatedly advocated for lowering the age of consent.

The Free State Project is a libertarian initiative started by Jason Sorens to overtake the state’s government. Freeman is also an advocate of seceding from the United States.