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Ohio man pleads guilty to running $300 million bitcoin money laundering service

An Ohio man who operated a service to help launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the darknet pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a money laundering conspiracy charge, authorities announced.

Larry Dean Harmon, 38, ran the service Helix from 2014 to 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Helix served as a bitcoin “mixer” or “tumbler,” helping those involved in transactions conceal the owner of the bitcoin.

Helix was used by dealers selling illegal drugs on darknet markets like AlphaBay, according to the federal criminal complaint against Harmon. 

Harmon even advertised the service as being able to hide transactions from law enforcement, authorities said.

Helix served as a bitcoin “mixer” or “tumbler,” helping those involved in transactions conceal the owner of the bitcoin. (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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“Darknet markets and the dealers who sell opioids and other illegal drugs on them are a growing scourge,” acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia said in a written statement. 

Helix worked with several darknet markets where illegal goods were peddled, officials said. Altogether, Helix moved more than 350,000 bitcoin, worth more than $300 million at the time of the transactions.

“The Darknet is driven in part by the criminal marketplaces which peddle their nefarious goods and services,” IRS Criminal Investigation Chief James C. Lee said. “But these marketplaces thrive in large measure because of the infrastructure that supports them. Harmon profited by facilitating the back-channel support of these marketplaces and helped criminals launder money they received via illicit activities. He then hid those funds from the government. He admitted his role today in these activities and will now be held accountable.”

As part of the plea deal, Harmon agreed to forfeit more than 4,400 bitcoin, currently worth more than $200 million, as well as other property used in the laundering conspiracy that authorities seized. 

The wide-ranging investigation involved the IRS, FBI, the Department of Justice and other authorities in Washington, D.C., Ohio, California and Belize.

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“The Justice Department, together with our law enforcement and regulatory partners, will continue to take enforcement actions to identify and impede those who use illicit means for financial gain, as well as those who use the Darknet to facilitate and obscure their criminal conduct,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will sentence Harmon at a later date. Harmon faces as long as 20 years in prison plus a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of property in the transactions, three years of parole and mandatory restitution.

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