KEENE, NH – The leader of the libertarian Free Keene collective remains jailed as federal Judge Andrea Johnstone decides whether to grant Ian Freeman bail.
Freeman, 40, was arrested this week along with five other Free Keene members in an FBI raid on his properties over allegations of money laundering. Law enforcement found $180,000 in cash, 26 guns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his Leverett Street home, close to a charter middle school in Keene.
Freeman is charged with operating a multi-million dollar bitcoin exchange business that facilitated laundering money from scammers across the country. He even allegedly used the churches he started to launder funds as “donations,” according to court records.
In a January interview with NH Reporter, Freeman said openly that he used the bitcoin exchange business to fund his church, the Monadnock Shire Free Church.
Assistant United States Attorney Georgiana MacDonald, said Friday that Freemen ought to be held without bail. In addition to the $180,000 in cash he has at least $2.4 million in bitcoin that he access from anywhere in the world.
“Ian Freeman is a sophisticated criminal,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said Freeman used his Shire Free Church, Church of the Invisible Hand, Reformed Satanic Temple and New Hampshire Peace Church to launder his payments. Freeman charged fees of between 5 and 15 percent on the bitcoin transactions, much higher than the normal 2 to 3 percent, according to MacDonald. Some scam victims were even directed to purchase bitcoin from Freeman, and were told to pay “donations” to his churches, according to MacDonald.
When Keene Police, FBI agents, and agents with the United States Treasury Department descended on his properties, Freemen was found with $180,000 in cash in a safe in one room, and 26 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition in another in the residential duplex, which is also home to the Shire Free Church.
Freeman’s attorney, Mark Sisti, said his client should be released as he has no criminal records of serious convictions, and he is charged with non-violent crimes.
“He has no history of violence,” Sisti said.
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 and Aria DiMezzo, 34, of Keene were all taken into custody on Tuesday following the raids.
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 also charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise. Freeman and DiMezzo also are charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
Freeman and DiMezzo both started churches that the indictments claim they used as part of the money-laundering scheme. According to the indictment, since 2016, the defendants have operated a business that enabled customers to exchange over $10 million in fiat currency for virtual currency, charging a fee for their service. They operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATM machines in New Hampshire.
The indictment alleges that the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations. Additionally, the indictment alleges that some defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities.
NH Reporter learned of the investigation into Freeman and his churches in January through a FOIA request, and during an interview with Freeman earlier this year, he revealed that he did use his bitcoin transaction business to fund the activities of the Shire Free Church.
“The church is a decentralized, interfaith church. It’s open to anyone who is peaceful,” Freeman said. “Free Keene is all about peaceful evolution.”
Freeman has known for years he was the subject of an investigation, Sisti said, as agents have been interviewing friends and family. Freeman said his group has long been the target of interest from the FBI, which he chalked up to being an activist.
“The FBI probably think I’m somehow some kind of mastermind behind a scheme to defraud people, falsely selling them bitcoin,” Freeman said.
Last year, Freeman said, one of his bank accounts was frozen as part of the investigation. He acknowledged there is a lot of fraud in the bitcoin world, but said he was not part of that type of business.
“I’ve got what I think are pretty good procedures,” he said.
The interest in Free Keene goes back to at least the trial of Nobody on charges of dealing marijuana and LSD in 2013, according to Freemen. Nobody claimed that he was offered a deal by the FBI during his arrest if he agreed to wear a wire and record his friends in the Free Keene movement.
“For the purpose of learning all the dastardly things they were supposedly doing,” Freeman said.
Nobody, a pro-marijuana activist who ran for governor, declined the deal and served about a year in jail. FBI representative Kristen Setera has declined to comment on the Nobody case. FBI Special Agent Phil Christiana, who at the time was assigned to counter-terrorism, was a witness for the state in Nobody’s drug trial.
In 2014, Freeman’s Leverett Street home was raided by the FBI as part of an investigation into child sex abuse images. No charges were ever brought in that case.
“Never gotten devices back and never been charged,” Freeman said.
That same year, Freeman’s Free Keene group was kicked out of the Free State Project, an effort to get libertarians to move to New Hampshire and overtake the state’s politics. At issue was Freeman’s comments on his radio program about lowering the age of consent for sexual relations.
The Free State group acknowledged Freeman was instrumental in the early days of the project in its statement disassociating itself from him.
“As one might expect of any group of 20,000+ people, from time to time participants have engaged in controversial behavior or espoused controversial opinions. When a media personality does this, they risk associating their sponsors and business partners with that behavior and opinion. Ian Freeman has recently done so with his statements regarding the age of consent,” the statement read.
Free Keene members have long been local gadflies, with a protest this weekend at the Monadnock Food Coop over the store’s mask mandate. The group also took part in protests at then-Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s house and Gov. Chris Sununu’s house, protesting COVID-19 restrictions.
DiMezzo ran for Cheshire County Sheriff twice, once as a Libertarian, and once as a Republican. DiMezzo describes herself as a trans, satanic anarchist who wants to do away with enforcement of victimless crimes. She declined to comment on the record about the case.
Free Keene was also the early home to Christopher Cantwell, also known as the Crying Nazi. Cantwell is currently serving a federal prison sentence for threatening to rape the wife of another white supremacist. Freeman said Cantwell never really fit in with the Free Keene group.
“He was always, even when he was a libertarian, even before he became a racist, he would talk a lot about killing cops,” Freeman said.
Evidence at Cantwell’s federal trial showed that he was in regular contact with Keene police and FBI about his activities. It was also disclosed at trial that Cantwell was under FBI surveillance before his January 2020 arrest.
“He’s just an angry guy, the way he’s always been. Self-loathing and anger have been a constant for him,” Freeman said. “He’s obviously got loose lips and his tendency to speak to police in recent years led to his downfall.”
Cantwell was also heavily involved in cryptocurrency, promoting it on his radio program.
Johnstone will issue a bail order soon, but until the order is issued, Freeman will be held in the Merrimack County House of Corrections.
Veteran reporter Damien Fisher is founder of NH Reporter, an independent news outlet for the Granite State.