CONCORD, NH – Six New Hampshire residents are under federal indictment in a scheme that enabled people to exchange more than $10 million for virtual currency, such as bitcoin.
According to the U.S. District Court indictment, the co-conspirators tricked financial institutions into believing their accounts were for receiving church donations and to conduct church outreach when they were operating accounts for their unlawful virtual currency exchange business. In carrying out the business, they used personal accounts or accounts opened in names of purported religious entities including the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of NH, the Church of the Invisible Hand and the Reformed Satanic Church.
Tuesday morning, the FBI raided several Keene properties associated with a libertarian-styled group referred to as Free Keene and at 1 p.m., the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a news release with the names of those indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and “other offenses.”
Those indicted are:
- Ian Freeman (formerly Ian Bernard), 40, of Keene;
- Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead;
- Renee Spinella, 23, of Derry;
- Andrew Spinella, 35, of Derry;
- Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 52, of Keene;
- Aria DiMezzo (formerly James Baker), 34, of Keene.
According to documents filed with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, Freeman is chairman of the board of directors of Shire Free Church Monadnock in Keene. The government gave notice in the indictment that “once convicted,” it will seek to have Freeman forfeit all property and any proceeds derived from the illegal business.
Freeman, Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, and Nobody also are charged with wire fraud and participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Freeman is charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise. Freeman and DiMezzo also are charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The indictment alleges the business violated federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations.
According to the indictment, the co-conspirators engaged in substantial efforts to evade detection by avoiding answering financial institutions’ questions about the nature of the business and tricking financial institutions into believing their unlawful virtual currency exchange business was “instead a religious organization receiving charitable contributions.”
Freeman, Renee Spinella, Colleen Fordham and others are accused of telling financial institutions the accounts were used to receive church donations and to conduct church outreach when “the accounts were opened to function, and did in fact function, as operating accounts for their unlawful virtual currency exchange business,” according to the indictment.
Freeman and others also are accused of instructing their customers to lie to financial institutions about the virtual currency transactions and conceal the fact they were buying virtual currency and, in some cases, to state falsely that payments were church donations or for the purpose of purchasing rare coins.
They advertised virtual currency for sale online through websites including LocalBitcoins.com and ran virtual currency automated teller machines, or kiosks, in New Hampshire, according to prosecutors.
The wire fraud charges allege the defendants devised and intended to devise a scheme to defraud financial institutions including Service Credit Union, Cheshire County Federal Credit Union, Wells Fargo, TD Bank, FGA Federal credit Union, First Tech Federal Credit Union, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in coordination with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Georgiana L. MacDonald and Seth R. Aframe.
The properties raided by the FBI included ones at 75 Leverett St. and Marlboro Road (Route 101). Shire Free Church Monadnock is located at 73 and 75 Leverett St.
The church operates two businesses, according to the NH Secretary of State website: Free Talk Live, a “religious media ministry of the Shire Free Church” and Bitcoin Embassy NH, located at 661 Marlboro St., which was also raided.
Five years ago, the FBI raided the Leverett Street property, seizing items in an investigation of the possession or distribution of child pornography.
The FBI tracked one user of a Virginia child pornography site to an IP address assigned to Free Talk Live, Freeman’s radio show, which is aired from the Leverett Street property.
According to the Keene Sentinel, an affidavit in that case mentioned Freeman lived at the house and was associated with the radio show but there was no direct evidence he accessed the pornographic website. He denied he or his housemates had done so and noted may people had access to the house’s network.
No one was arrested and Freeman was never federally charged with anything connected to the raid.
In the past year, other residents of Keene have caught the eye of FBI investigators, resulting in their arrests.
Most recently, Jason Riddle, 32, was arrested for his part in the Jan. 6 insurrection. He faces federal charges of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, theft of government property and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Riddle told a local news outlet that he chugged wine stolen from a lawmaker’s liquor cabinet during the chaos.
Last month, a federal judge sentenced Christopher Cantwell, 39, of Keene to more than three years in prison for threatening and attempted extortion of a fellow white supremacist.
Cantwell gained the moniker “the crying Nazi,” after his emotional reaction to him being charged in connection with the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. where a woman was killed.
See the indictment below: