California man sentenced to 3 years for operating unlicensed bitcoin exchange biz
Hugo Sergio Mejia of California has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for operating an unlicensed cryptocurrency exchange business that transacted $13 million worth of bitcoin and cash, often for drug traffickers.
The 50-year-old Mejia of San Bernardino County pleaded guilty to “one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and one count of money laundering,” according to the Department of Justice.
Mejia's business converted bitcoin to cash and vice versa from May 2018 to September 2020.
While he charged commissions for these transactions, he never registered his business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
He also masked his true identity by establishing companies, including Worldwide Secure Communications LLC, World Secure Data, and The HODL Group LLC.
While exchanging 14.273 bitcoins for $82,150 in cash plus fees in March 2020, a client who worked with law enforcement informed Mejia that “his primary customer was a methamphetamine buyer in Australia."
Mejia and the client eventually conducted five bitcoin-cash transactions that exceeded $250,000.
As part of his plea agreement, Mejia would forfeit all assets derived from the illegal deals, including $233,987 in cash, $95,587 in various cryptocurrencies, and silver coins and bars seized from his residences in Santa Ana and Ontario.