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Libertarian activist sentenced to 8 years in prison for role in cryptocurrency money laundering scheme

Supporters of Ian Freeman, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, on the courthouse steps in Concord Monday.
Todd Bookman
Supporters of Ian Freeman, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, on the courthouse steps in Concord Monday.

Ian Freeman, a prominent libertarian activist and host of a syndicated radio show based in Keene, was sentenced Monday to eight years in federal prison on charges that his cryptocurrency exchange business catered to fraudsters.

The sentencing comes more than two years after Freeman was arrested, along with several co-conspirators, for accepting millions of dollars in cash and wire transfers, and then converting those funds to cryptocurrency while taking a sizable commission. He failed to properly register his business, and used a church he created to shield assets from taxes, prosecutors argued.

During a sentencing hearing inside a Concord courtroom packed with his supporters, Freeman told federal Judge Joseph Laplante that he did not believe he broke the law, and that he attempted to screen potential customers as victims of scams.

“I’m sorry these people were taken advantage of, and that I failed to stop them all,” Freeman said.

Freeman has run unsuccessfully for several political offices in the state, and has been active with the Free State Project, a libertarian-minded movement that calls for people to relocate to New Hampshire. His supporters cheered for him as he entered the courtroom. Many shouted that they loved him as the hearing concluded.

Prosecutors told the judge that Freeman has refused to take responsibility for his actions, and that he had a sophisticated understanding of currency regulations and worked to conceal his operations by repeatedly misleading financial institutions.

Freeman’s transactions essentially placed him as the middleman between internet romance scammers and their victims. Prosecutors allege that Freeman knew these scammers would lure unsuspecting senior citizens into sending them money via Freeman, who would convert the cash or wire payments into bitcoin. He would charge as much as 21% for his commission, far exceeding the fees charged by more prominent exchanges such as Coinbase.

The scammers were willing to accept the higher commissions charged by Freeman, the government argued, because of the anonymity his exchange afforded them.

Federal sentencing guidelines backed by the government called for a potential prison term of more than 17 years, while Freeman’s attorneys advocated for a three-year sentence. Laplante broke from the sentencing guidelines, instead imposing his own prison term based on a variety of factors, he told the courtroom.

“There was real harm caused by his conduct,” Laplante said.

Freeman was also ordered to pay a $40,000 fine. The court will hold an additional hearing on how much Freeman will pay in restitution to victims of fraud, which could run into the millions of dollars.

His defense team said the government was well aware of Freeman’s business for years before it chose to raid his home in March 2021, and that delaying his arrest meant that prosecutors could pursue a more severe case against him.

“He certainly was a target. He was open about what he was doing,” said Mark Sisti, Freeman’s attorney, after the hearing. “He was there for years doing it, and they could have taken him off the streets in 2017 instead of waiting as long as they did, subjecting a lot of people to a lot of pain over that time period.”

Sisti said he would appeal the sentence, and has already appealed the jury’s conviction to the First Circuit Court in Boston. Judge Laplante denied Sisti’s request that Freeman remain free on bond pending the results of that appeal.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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