Between July 2014 and December 2017, Helix processed a reported 354,468 BTC for drug vendors on Alphabay and other marketplaces. At the time of transaction, this sum was worth over $311 million. At today's prices, Helix processed over $16 billion worth of bitcoin.
In a press statement after Harmon’s arrest, Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski wrote: “This indictment underscores that seeking to obscure virtual currency transactions in this way is a crime.”
Many in the crypto community have expressed concern that Harmon’s arrest set a precedent where creating a bitcoin mixer is considered unlawful and any service that uses obfuscation tactics to conceal bitcoin’s publicly accessible path could face legal pushback. There are multiple technologies for “mixing” bitcoin payments, however. Some are clearly illegal, but with others, the matter is murky.
While pleading guilty, Harmon’s lawyer clarified that Helix’s double-blind nature meant that Harmon did not know the number or value of the transactions he processed.
The prosecution described Harmon’s plea deal as “lenient” due to an unspecified “cooperation agreement.”
However, Ari Redbord, head of legal and government affairs at TRM Labs, a firm that detects crypto fraud and crime, said Harmon is not getting off lightly.
"Quite the opposite. He pled guilty to the lead charge in the indictment – money laundering conspiracy – which carries a 20-year maximum sentence and his sentencing guideline range is life in prison," Redbord said. "He now has to provide valuable information to the government in order for them to seek a downward departure from the court. The result makes sense for both sides."
Harmon, who remains on release pending sentencing, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison as well as what his lawyer describes as “a large and lengthy forfeiture agreement.”
UPDATE (Aug. 18, 2021, 15:35 UTC): Adds additional comment.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, institutional digital assets exchange. Bullish group is majority owned by Block.one; both groups have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary, and an editorial committee, chaired by a former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, is being formed to support journalistic integrity.