Helix Operator Pleads Guilty to Charges of Laundering $300M in Bitcoin

Divya  |  Aug 19, 2021

An Ohio man has pleaded guilty to the charges of running a $300 million money-laundering scheme via Bitcoin. The man in question is Larry Dean Harmon, who helped several crypto users, including drug traffickers hide their transactions through a mixer service called Helix.

Ohio Man Running $300M Bitcoin Laundering Scheme Pleads Guilty

Harmon, who maintained a residence in Belize while laundering funds, agreed to the charges against him through a videoconference call on Wednesday. Subsequently, the federal court of Washington D.C. asked him to forfeit more than 4,400 Bitcoins (worth over $200 million at current price) in his custody. 

The US Treasury Department bureau Finacial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has already levied a hefty fine of $60 million on Harmon in October. This figure would rise further upon his final sentencing, which could also lead to a jail time of up to 20 years.

According to a CNBC report, Harmon operated a Bitcoin mixer -- Helix -- from the year 2014 to 2017 and partnered with several Darknet markets such as AlphaBay, Evolution, and Cloud 9 to provide Bitcoin money-laundering services. The Darknet or the dark web refers to encrypted online content that cannot be indexed by conventional search engines.

The report further explains that Helix charged its customers a fee and sent Bitcoin to recipients in a way that was untraceable. Prosecutors say that the service moved more than 350,000 Bitcoins, estimated to be worth over $300 million at the time.

In his admission, Harmon accepted that he conspired with Darknet vendors and other marketplaces to offer Bitcoin money laundering options. He also stated that he was aware of AlphaBay and Evolution’s involvement in selling illegal drugs and other questionable goods and services, like hacking. 

Harmon’s Case is a First for Cryptocurrency Mixers

Ari Redbord, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and a former senior adviser at the Treasury Department, pointed out that Harmon’s case was a first for cryptocurrency mixers. He suggested it shows American law enforcement’s willingness to go after platforms thriving on the Darknet, as it continues to leverage the transparency of blockchain technology.

Elsewhere, James Lee, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, underscored the seriousness of the case.

“The Darknet is driven in part by the criminal marketplaces which peddle their nefarious goods and services,” Lee stated. “Harmon profited by facilitating the back-channel support of these marketplaces and helped criminals launder money they received via illicit activities.”

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