A California man has entered into a plea agreement with U.S. authorities after being charged with operating an unlicensed company that exchanged millions of dollars in bitcoin for cash.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday, Hugo Mejia, 49, pleaded guilty to a two-count charge of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and money laundering.
From May 2018 to September 2020, Mejia operated a digital currency business that exchanged cryptocurrency for cash, taking commissions for transactions conducted on his platform.
Mejia failed to register his business with the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network – an agency within the Department of the Treasury that aims to safeguard against financial crime through data collection and analysis.
During the 28-month period, Mejia exchanged around $13 million and established other companies such as The HODL Group LLC and Worldwide Communications LLC to hide the true nature of his illegal activities.
His business was advertised online and via word of mouth while also communicating with potential clients via encrypted messaging services and meeting them inside coffee shops.
Mejia’s undoing came by way of a sting operation in which a person working with law enforcement and posing as a client met with him in a coffee shop and agreed to buy 14.273 BTC for over $82,000, plus fees. Over the course of the sting operation, Mejia had conducted five bitcoin-to-cash transactions exceeding $250,000.
Since entering a guilty plea, the San Bernadino County man has given up all assets stemming from his illegal activity, including over $230,000 in cash, various cryptocurrencies and silver coins and bars.
Mejia is expected to go before a U.S. district court in March and faces a maximum statutory sentence of 25 years behind bars in federal prison.