Dark Web Search Engine Operator Pleads Guilty to Bitcoin Laundering Scheme
A 36-year-old man from Akron, Ohio, has pleaded guilty to operating a dark web search engine and a bitcoin mixer that laundered over $310 million worth of cryptocurrency from illegal sources.
Larry Dean Harmon admitted to running Grams, a search engine that indexed dark web marketplaces, and Helix, a service that mixed bitcoins to obscure their origin and ownership.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Harmon partnered with AlphaBay, one of the largest dark web marketplaces that was shut down by law enforcement in 2017, and offered Helix as a way for customers to conceal their transactions from authorities.
Harmon also advertised Helix as a \"bitcoin tumbler\" that provided customers with new bitcoins that had never been to the dark web before.
Between 2014 and 2017, Harmon laundered at least 354,468 bitcoins (worth about $311 million at the time) through Helix, mostly from illegal sources such as drug trafficking, fraud, and child exploitation.
Harmon faces up to 20 years in prison for money laundering conspiracy, and up to five years each for operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and conducting money transmission without a license in Washington D.C.
\"This guilty plea underscores that seeking to obscure virtual currency transactions in this way is a crime, and that the Department can and will ensure that such crime doesnât pay,\" said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Departmentâs Criminal Division.
Harmon's plea comes after a three-year investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the IRS, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Harmon was arrested in February 2020 and extradited from Belize to face charges in the U.S.
Harmon's lawyer, Charles Flood, said his client accepted responsibility for his actions and cooperated with the authorities. Flood also said that Harmon did not know the identities of his customers or the nature of their activities.
\"He was providing a service that he thought was legal and legitimate,\" Flood said. \"He was not involved in any of the underlying crimes that his customers may have committed.\"
However, prosecutors said that Harmon was aware that some of his customers were using Helix to launder proceeds from illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, fraud, and child exploitation. They also said that Harmon conspired with dark web vendors and administrators to launder bitcoins generated through illicit sales on dark web marketplaces.
\"Harmon admitted that Helix partnered with several Darknet markets to provide bitcoin laundering services for customers seeking to hide their illicit activities from law enforcement,\" said Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. Hubbert of the Justice Departmentâs Tax Division. \"Todayâs guilty plea demonstrates that the department will continue to pursue those who facilitate the use of cryptocurrency to evade taxes and commit crimes.\" aa16f39245