Police nab six in fraud scheme
KEENE – Ian Freeman, a leader of the so-called “free state” movement who has run unsuccessfully for city council, state represenative and state senator seats over several years, was one of six individuals taken into custody Tuesday by FBI agents and local police in connection with an alleged $10 million money-laundering operation.
Freeman, 40, a Keene resident formerly known as Ian Bernard, is alleged to have operated a business that, the FBI said in a statement, “enabled customers to exchange more than $10 million in fiat currency for virtual currency,” for which Freeman and co-defendants charged a service fee.
The defendants allegedly “operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATM machines,” throughout New Hampshire, according to acting U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire John J. Farley.
The series of arrests Tuesday morning caught the attention of many Keene residents living or working near one of the four locations the FBI agents and police raided over a period of time.
Each of the locations – a duplex at 73-75 Leverett St., on the corner of River Street, and neighboring properties at 659-661 Marlboro Road, which is Route 101 – are associated with the libertarian-leaning group of “free staters” known as Free Keene.
Arrested in addition to Freeman, who is listed in state records as the chairman of the board of the “Shire Free Church Monadnock,” which was founded several years ago as part of the “Free State Project,” were Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead; Renee Spinella, 23, and Andrew Spinella, 35, both of Derry; and a man named “Nobody,” formerly known as Richard Paul, 52; and Aria DiMezzo, formerly James Baker, 34, both of Keene.
According to Farley’s statement, all of the suspects are charged with participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
Except for DiMezzo, each is also charged with wire fraud and participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Farley said.
Freeman is also charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise.
Freeman and DiMezzo are each also charged with operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, Farley said in the statement.
The indictments accuse the defendants of operating the money-exchange business since 2016, and alleges that they “knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations,” according to Farley.
Along the way, “in furtherance of their (alleged) scheme,” Farley said in the statement, “some of the defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities.”
Then, according to the indictments, some of them allegedly “engaged in substantial efforts to evade detection of their unlawful virtual currency exchange scheme by avoiding answering financial institutionsí questions about the nature of the business,” and allegedly misled the financial institutions “into believing their unlawful virtual currency exchange business was instead a religious organization receiving charitable contributions,” according to Farley.
The six were scheduled to appear Tuesday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate judge, Farley added.
Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or email@example.com.