Attorneys present closing arguments in Freeman’s federal cryptocurrency trial

Prosecutors allege defendant laundered money for scam artists who conned people online into sending thousands of dollars
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Aframe called Ian Freeman “a manipulating, lying, money launderer” in closing arguments of the Keene resident’s federal trial Wednesday.

Defense attorney Mark Sisti countered that the prosecution’s case was long on speculation, innuendo and intuition but short on evidence and said his client is charitable, peaceful and well liked.

The closing arguments marked the end of the two-week trial for Freeman, the libertarian activist and radio host who lost a GOP primary race for state Senate this year. Jury deliberations began Wednesday at about 3 p.m., and are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.

He has pleaded not guilty to operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, money laundering and income-tax evasion, as well as conspiracy charges in connection with the money-laundering and unlicensed money-transmitting allegations.

Prosecutors allege he laundered money for scam artists who met people on the internet and conned them into sending thousands of dollars. They said Freeman would take a percentage and convert the rest into Bitcoin for the scammer. Bitcoin is a type of digital currency backed by computer code rather than a central banking authority.

Freeman took the witness stand Tuesday and said revenue from handling the transactions went into his Shire Free Church in Keene, which he said was a force for good in the community.

Aframe, in his closing, said the church is a scam that Freeman utilizes to illegally evade taxes and to further his Bitcoin business.

He said Freeman’s business niche was offering anonymity for the transactions. This allowed him to charge a premium and appeal to scammers wanting to cover their tracks, Aframe said.

Aframe summed up Freeman’s business model as “don’t ask, don’t tell, get me the cash and I’ll get you the Bitcoin.”

He said Freeman purposely turned a blind eye to the possibility that many people, particularly seniors, were falling victims to scams in which an online acquaintance feigns romantic interest and persuades them to send money. Several people testified they lost thousands of dollars in this way.

An undercover IRS agent posing as a customer told Freeman he was involved in drug sales and Freeman told him, “You got a little too loose-lipped. I can’t knowingly sell you Bitcoin,” Aframe said.

The prosecuting attorney said this statement indicates Freeman was not averse to laundering money as long as the client was quiet about where the money came from.

“He was willfully blind,” Aframe said.

Sisti had a different interpretation, saying that by refusing this transaction, Freeman was staying within the confines of the law.

Freeman testified that he never knowingly helped a scammer and instead tried to help people if he feared they were about to be scammed.

Sisti played surveillance video of the FBI raid on Freeman’s home at 73-75 Leverett St. in Keene, on March 16, 2021, in which two armored vehicles were used, including one with a battering ram that broke out windows. Surveillance equipment was damaged. Residents were roused shortly after 5 a.m. by agents with rifles and body armor.

“That was disgusting and despicable,” Sisti said. “There was no need for it and it was overdone, just like this prosecution is overdone.”

He said that if the IRS was concerned about taxes, they should have had Freeman come in with his accountant and lawyer, not launched an undercover investigation.

In September, co-defendant Aria DiMezzo, of Keene, pleaded guilty to a single count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Earlier this year, an Elm City resident who legally changed his name from Richard Paul to Nobody and Derry residents Renee and Andrew Spinella also pleaded guilty, each to a single charge of wire fraud. (In April, the federal government dropped charges against an Alstead woman who had been indicted as a co-conspirator.)

In closing arguments in the court of Judge Joseph N. Laplante, Sisti reminded the jury that the prosecution has a high burden, needing to show Freeman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He implored them to make the prosecution live up to that standard.

“I know it’s Christmas time, Hanukkah time,” Sisti said, “but don’t give the government a gift.”

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