A Florida judge has dismissed long-standing charges against Michel Espinoza, accused since 2014 of illegal money transmission and money laundering for selling bitcoin.
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The case and decision are now likely to have widespread positive implications for Bitcoin in the South Florida region, said the defense’s main expert witness.
Espinoza’s legal team had previously called the initial police investigation “a fishing expedition” and the trial a “guinea pig test case“. The lawyers had been hopeful Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler would throw out the case after they filed a motion to dismiss in May.
Central to Espinoza’s defense was the notion that Bitcoin is not defined as money or even a currency under Florida law.
Money Expert’s Testimony
Also central was the expert testimony of Dr. Charles Evans, Associate Professor of Economics and Finance at Barry University, and Executive Director of the Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation.
Dr. Evans was approached as a digital currency expert by Mr. Espinoza’s attorney Rene Palomino. His history in the field goes back way further than Bitcoin, having been a promoter of projects like eCash in the early 1990s.
A self-described “moneypunk”, Evans’ initial interest in digital currencies lay in their potential to allow developing countries to issue e-commodities backed by gold, oil or others.
Although eCash never took off, he remained fascinated by its nature and what it or similar technologies could do. He continued his work in the field, studying Bitcoin after it emerged in 2009, publishing his research in peer-reviewed journals and speaking at various conferences on money transmission, banking and financial education.
What the Ruling Means for the Future
Speaking to Bitcoin.com, Dr. Evans said things had improved since 2014. Espinoza’s case had dragged on for two and a half years, and, although Evans was hired to testify in one other federal case involving Bitcoin in that time, he doesn’t predict many other such money-defining trials in the near future. He said:
It seems to be getting better, step by step. FinCEN officials issued their Guidance in March of 2013, IRS officials in 2014; SEC and CFTC officials took positive steps in 2015—I even have some Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC) shares in my private pension account (IRA)—and since then, officials at the Federal Reserve, IMF, Bank of England, Bank for International Settlements, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, etc. have had moderately positive things to say about Bitcoin.
Regulators in other states, such as Texas, Kansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee and even Florida had also made statements since 2014 saying buying and selling bitcoins for one’s own inventory is not money transmission. Florida, however, required an actual case to make a definite judgment.
While the recent collapse of exchange Cryptsy could potentially be another interesting case for Florida, it would be contingent on the company’s absent founder being located and returning to the US.
Good News for South Florida Bitcoiners
The case is good news for bitcoin entrepreneurs in South Florida, who can use the case as a precedent – and also enjoy other local advantages, like proximity to several foreign countries and Miami’s reputation as an international trade, transport, tourism and banking center.
South Florida is now the place to be, Evans added, comparing it to other US technology centers.
If you like high taxes, expensive housing, and terrible traffic, Silicon Valley is ideal. Likewise, if you like being in the middle of a tornado-infested prairie, then Austin is a good choice. If, on the other hand, you like warm winters, amazing coffee, and no personal state income tax, then Miami or Fort Lauderdale might be more to your liking. It really is a matter of personal preferences.
Bitcoin skills are in increasing demand worldwide, he said, and places like Panama, the UK and even China could attract talent.
It’ll Get Weirder, But Hold the Trolling
Dr. Evans said that “many 1990s moneypunks botched it beyond redemption,” eventually suffering under stifling laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Bitcoin’s online peanut gallery aren’t helping today by appearing unprofessional and childish, though, and engaging in “cringe-worthy” public spats with those working in the industry.
Simply being unorthodox, even strange, in Bitcoin and attitude to regulation, will push boundaries if participants are actually prepared to act.
“As long as one has skin in the game, then one is justified saying whatever one feels like saying,” he added. “Erik Voorhees is probably the politest anarchist that I have met, and Roger Ver has more than paid his dues. One has to respect someone who actually leaves a place that one finds unpleasant, rather than wallow in a puddle of one’s own unhappiness.”
As Evans has told Federal Reserve bank examiners, bank executives, state legislators and academics, “welcome to the 21st century. It only gets weirder from here”.
“Mr. Espinoza’s victory just might have made the slope a little bit slipperier.”
What are Miami’s chances of becoming bitcoin capital of the USA? Would you move to a new city/country if it had friendlier bitcoin regulation?