As Keene resident and libertarian activist Ian Freeman awaits trial on federal charges related to his bitcoin-exchange business, two of his alleged co-conspirators have signaled they will enter guilty pleas.
Renee and Andrew Spinella, both of Derry, are scheduled for change-of-plea hearings Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Concord. Their shift from not-guilty pleas to pleading guilty would mark the first time any of the six alleged co-conspirators have admitted wrongdoing.
Freeman, Colleen Fordham of Alstead, Aria DiMezzo of Keene and a Keene man who legally changed his name from Richard Paul to Nobody have all pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors claim Freeman and his alleged co-conspirators violated federal law by running an unlicensed virtual currency-exchange business that handled more than $10 million in transactions over several years.
According to the government, Freeman and other co-defendants used personal bank accounts and accounts in the names of “purported religious entities” — like the Shire Free Church, the Crypto Church of NH, the Church of the Invisible Hand and the Reformed Satanic Church — to conceal the nature of their business while directing customers to falsely report that they were donating to churches or buying rare coins, not purchasing cryptocurrency.
The government arrested the six in March 2021. The FBI conducted several searches in Keene one day that month, including at 73-75 Leverett St. and at two properties on Route 101.
Those properties are linked to the libertarian activist group known locally as Free Keene, which has ties to some of the defendants. The Route 101 searches were at 661 Marlboro Road, at a business called Bitcoin Embassy N.H., and 659 Marlboro Road, which is owned by Shire Free Church Holdings LLC. The FBI also conducted an operation at a local convenience store, with an employee at the time telling The Sentinel agents removed a Bitcoin ATM.
Court records indicate the defendants’ trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1.
All six alleged co-conspirators were charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and all but DiMezzo also face a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Renee Spinella additionally faces two charges of wire fraud and Andrew Spinella faces a single additional charge of wire fraud. Court documents do not indicate what charge or charges they are expected to plead guilty to.
Freeman also faces charges of operation of an unlicensed money-transmitting business, continuing financial-crimes enterprise, money laundering and six counts of wire fraud. The continuing financial-crimes enterprise charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
“Unfortunately the way the federal government works is they do their best to intimidate people by stacking on as many charges as possible,” Freeman said Saturday.
Freeman said he has not been allowed to talk to his co-defendants, but has heard that the prosecution threatened the Spinellas with additional charges to force them into a plea deal. The Sentinel has not been able to confirm this. Court documents do not indicate any additional charges. Renee Spinella was not immediately reachable by phone. Neither Andrew Spinella nor his attorney were immediately reachable Saturday for a request for comment.
Freeman said he does not expect that the Spinellas will cooperate with the government, despite the scheduled guilty plea.
“Nobody here did anything wrong. These are victimless so-called crimes,” he said. “I expect they will not be cooperating with the state because we all believe the state is evil.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Georgiana L. MacDonald has previously alleged that “hordes of cybercriminals” bought virtual currency from Freeman in an effort to avoid detection by banks and government regulators.
The government also claims in court documents Freeman allowed an undercover agent to exchange around $20,000 in cash for bitcoin after the agent told him he was dealing drugs. Freeman’s lawyer, Mark Sisti, has previously told The Sentinel he doesn’t know where the government’s claim about an undercover agent is coming from. He said he has seen evidence of Freeman refusing to deal with criminals.
DiMezzo, also reached by phone Saturday, said the Spinellas have to do what is best for themselves — even if that means entering a plea deal with the government.
“In the libertarian philosophy as long as they are making the decision that is best for them the world is best served,” DiMezzo said.
While she said she believes a jury will find no evidence of the alleged crimes, “certainly, if they agree to be star witnesses to the prosecutors, that certainly will have an effect on other people’s cases.”
But a guilty plea is not evidence of guilt, DiMezzo argued, claiming, as Freeman did, that the federal government stacks charges against defendants to “bully” them into pleas.
“It’s hard to accept a guilty plea as an actual confession of guilt in the modern court system,” she said. “Whether they’re guilty or not, [defendants] accept the deal to make the bigger threat go away.”
Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @rspencerKS. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.