|A mock Bitcoin is shown in this photo illustration in Sandy, Utah. (Bloomberg)|
WASHINGTON (AFP) ― U.S. authorities Monday filed criminal charges against two operators of a Bitcoin exchange, including the head of a company with high-profile investment backers.
A criminal complaint unsealed by officials said the Bitcoin exchange violated money laundering laws by allowing its users to buy drugs and other illicit goods on the Silk Road underground website.
Federal prosecutors said they charged Robert Faiella and Charlie Shrem, who ran a company allowing people to use cash to buy Bitcoins, a virtual currency based on a mysterious computer algorithm.
The two are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and running an unlicensed money transmitting business, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York.
Shrem, 24, who was also charged with violating the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to file any suspicious activity reports, was arrested Sunday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, officials said.
Authorities did not name the company involved in the scheme, but Shrem is chief executive of BitInstant and is a self-described “Bitcoin evangelist” whose venture is backed by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, known for a legal spat over the founding of Facebook.
Shrem is also vice chair of the Bitcoin Foundation, a group aimed at promoting use of the crypto-currency.
The Winklevoss brothers said in a statement Monday they were “passive” investors in BitInstant and believed it complied with all laws.
“When we invested in BitInstant in the fall of 2012, its management made a commitment to us that they would abide by all applicable laws ― including money laundering laws ― and we expected nothing less,” said the statement.
“Although BitInstant is not named in today’s indictment of Charlie Shrem, we are obviously deeply concerned about his arrest ... and will do everything we can to help law enforcement officials. We fully support any and all governmental efforts to ensure that money laundering requirements are enforced.”
Faiella, 52, was arrested at his home Monday in Cape Coral, Florida, according to officials.
“As alleged, Robert Faiella and Charlie Shrem schemed to sell over $1 million in Bitcoins to criminals bent on trafficking narcotics on the dark drug website, Silk Road,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.