A woman from LA faces prison time for trading Bitcoin for fiat currency. As reported by NBC Los Angeles, Theresa Tetley, 50, operated an “illegal, unregistered multi-million-dollar money transmitting business.”
The case alleges that Tetley earned at least $300,000 per year by exchanging Bitcoin for cash. The US Attorney’s office alleges that between 2014 and 2017, she exchanged between $6 to $9 million in Bitcoin, by advertising her services through an ad on LocalBitcoins.com, an online marketplace where users may trade digital assets, similarly to how people trade and sell physical goods on Craigslist or eBay.
Tetley offered her services under the pseudonym, “Bitcoin Maven.” She pleaded guilty to federal charges for operating a money transmission business that didn’t comply with government registration requirements. Prosecutors from the US Attornnd ey’s Office also allege that one of her transactions involved proceeds derived from drug trafficking.
The prosecution is calling for a 30-month federal prison sentence, while Tetley’s defense attorney is asking U.S. District Judge Manuel Real to reduce it to one year of imprisonment. In addition, prosecutors are requesting an order of forfeiture of 40 Bitcoin ($261,000 USD), $292,264 in cash, and 25 gold bars. The cash and gold have already been seized from Tetley, and it can be assumed that the property that was taken from her will be used to investigate and prosecute other people who are trading cryptocurrencies and cash with one another without the government’s stamp of approval.
Prosecutors have painted a very negative picture of Tetley’s business activities. According to court papers, Tetley “fueled a black-market financial system in the Central District of California that purposely and deliberately existed outside of the regulated bank industry.” To be clear, this language is affirming that it may be illegal for a person to exchange their own money for the digital assets that another person owns, without using a middleman such as a regulated institution such as a bank.
This is not the first time that people have been prosecuted for operating an illegal money transfer service. In 2016, Randal Bryan Lord, and his son, Michael Aaron Lord pleaded guilty and were denied the right to rescind their plea after speaking with an attorney. As a result, they were sentenced to 46 months and 106 months, respectively. It appears that these heavy sentences were partially due to a guilty verdict on engaging in a drug conspiracy, in which alprazolam was distributed. The brand name for alprazolam is Xanax, and it is used as an anti-anxiety medication, for which over 50 million prescriptions are written every year. In addition, it is reported that college students use Xanax for several purposes, including to maximize the effects of alcohol, and to decrease the effects of coming off of an ecstasy high.
According to Jerome R. McDuffie, Special Agent in Charge for the New Orleans Field Office of IRS – Criminal Investigation, the arrest and prosecution of Michael and Randal Lord, “This investigation represents cutting edge criminal activity.” Although there is no consensus between the IRS, CFTC, SEC and other government agencies on how to classify digital assets, in this case, the IRS considered Bitcoin to be “money” for legal purposes.
Theresa Tetley’s fate is now in the hands of Judge Manuel Real. She may face several years in prison for exchanging Bitcoin for fiat, and it appears that she will also be required to give up all of her personal property. This calls into question whether Bitcoin regulations have good or bad outcomes.