CLEVELAND (WJW) – For scammers, cryptocurrency is now the best way get their money.
At a news conference Thursday morning, prosecutors in Cleveland said kiosks run by Bitcoin of America served as a middleman that made it easy for victims of scams to lose millions of dollars.
“Cryptocurrency is money and if you’re a money transmitter in Ohio, you need to have a license. Bitcoin of America does not have a license,” Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Rogalski said.
Three men were arrested, including Bitcoin of America CEO Sonny Meraban, of Miami, Florida, his father, Reza Mehraban and their attorney, William Soriano, who both live in the Chicago area.
They’re facing dozens of counts of money laundering, conspiracy and numerous Ohio ATM licensing violations.
More than 50 Bitcoin of America ATMs were seized across Cuyahoga and Lorain counties.
Prosecutors say the machines were frequently, and in some cases exclusively, used as a middleman between scammers and their victims. All the while, prosecutors say Bitcoin of America took 20% off the top of every illegal transaction.
“Because of Bitcoin of America’s lack of safeguards, criminals around the world have used the company to receive payments and illicit funds to criminals in the U.S. and across the world. Scammers, robocallers and international organized crime groups have capitalized on the company’s lack of compliance and licensing,” Cleveland Secret Service Director Blaine Forshen said.
The Secret Service also says that the company’s lack of licensing and compliance with the law allowed for funds taken from Northeast Ohio to go to criminal groups in Russia and to neo-Nazi groups.
County prosecutors says at least eight victims have been identified here in Northeast Ohio, but they believe there are many more. They urge them to come forward.
“They should do two things: file a police report with their local police department and two, go to the FTC website, as I mentioned with my comments, to file with their database and make a complaint that will get the ball rolling.” Forshen said.
Prosecutors say the company may still have other unlicensed cryptocurrency ATMs in other Ohio counties.
They say that those machines should not be used because they’re not legal in Ohio.
The Secret Service say Bitcoin of America has roughly 2,500 ATMs in 31 states.