The owner of crypto exchange CoinFlux has pled guilty to laundering over $1.8 million worth of Bitcoin.
Vlad-Călin Nistor and 14 other defendants, including the owner of a car wash, pled guilty for their roles in a transnational and multi-million dollar scheme to defraud U.S. residents.
The guilty pleas were issued at the Eastern District Court of Kentucky, per a Thursday announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Four of the guilty pleas were made by Romanian nationals in the past 24 days, with two taking place in the last 24 hours, the announcement stated.
The defendants were involved in a racketeering conspiracy and online auction fraud, defrauding millions of dollars from U.S. residents by selling goods that didn’t actually exist.
The scheme began as early as 2013, according to the statement, when Romanian car wash owner Bodgan-Stefan Popescu coordinated the spread of tools like fake advertisements and account info for IP address anonymizing services to defraud American residents. Popescu also connected these residents with other members of the racketeering scheme, who would impersonate different people over the phone, including eBay customer service representatives and military members trying to sell items before deployment.
Popescu collected Bitcoin through fraudulent means. One of the main ways he did this was by receiving cryptocurrency from co-conspirators through online scams and sending the money to Nistor. Nistor would launder funds generated through CoinFlux, exchange the cryptocurrency for fiat currency and then deposit the funds into bank accounts under the names of employees and family members.
“Through the use of digital currencies and trans-border organizational strategies, this criminal syndicate believed they were beyond the reach of law enforcement,” Assistant Director Michael D’Ambrosio, U.S. Secret Service, Office of Investigations, said in the DOJ statement. “However, as this successful investigation clearly illustrates, with sustained, international cooperation, we can effectively hold cyber criminals accountable for their actions, no matter where they reside.”
Nistor was arrested in December 2018 on an international warrant and was extradited to the U.S. The defendants now await sentencing.