Former Chairman And CEO Of Federal Credit Union And Computer Programmer For Unlawful Bitcoin Exchange Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that TREVON GROSS and YURI LEBEDEV were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan to prison in connection with a bribery scheme to take over control of a federal credit union and a related fraud scheme to operate Coin.mx, an illegal Bitcoin exchange. On March 17, 2017, GROSS and LEBEDEV were convicted following a jury trial on all counts with which they were charged in the controlling indictment. On October 20, Judge Nathan sentenced LEBEDEV to 16 months in prison. Earlier today, Judge Nathan sentenced GROSS to 60 months in prison.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “Yuri Lebedev and others at Coin.mx, an unlawful Bitcoin exchange, tricked banks into processing millions of dollars in transactions by hiding the nature of their business. When the banks caught on to their scheme, Lebedev and others bribed Trevon Gross in order to gain control of a credit union to process those transactions, undermining the credit union’s safety and solvency in the process. Despite elaborate efforts by the defendants to hide their schemes, their brazen crimes were exposed at trial. Gross and Lebedev’s criminal schemes have now landed them in federal prison.”
According to the Superseding Indictment on which GROSS and LEBEDEV were convicted, evidence admitted at trial, and statements made during the sentencing proceedings:
The Unlawful Bitcoin Exchange
Between 2013 and July 2015, LEBEDEV helped operate Coin.mx, an unlawful internet-based Bitcoin exchange, along with Anthony Murgio, the founder of Coin.mx. LEBEDEV, Murgio, and their co-conspirators engaged in substantial efforts to evade detection of their unlawful Bitcoin exchange by operating through a phony front company called “Collectables Club.” Coin.mx used the “Collectables Club” to open financial accounts in order to trick financial institutions into believing the unlawful Bitcoin exchange was simply a members-only association of individuals who discussed, bought, and sold collectible items and memorabilia. LEBEDEV and his co-conspirators deceived financial institutions by deliberately misidentifying and miscoding Coin.mx customers’ credit and debit card transactions, in violation of bank and credit card company rules and regulations. Through the illegal Coin.mx scheme, LEBEDEV and his co-conspirators caused more than $10 million in Bitcoin-related transactions to be processed illegally through financial institutions.
The Credit Union Bribery Scheme
In 2014, in an effort further to evade scrutiny from financial institutions about the nature of the business engaged in by Coin.mx, LEBEDEV, Murgio, and their co-conspirators gained control of HOPE Federal Credit Union (“HOPE FCU”), a low-income designated federal credit union in Lakewood, New Jersey, for which GROSS served as Chairman and CEO. After making more than $150,000 in illegal bribes at GROSS’s direction to bank accounts in the name of a church where GROSS served as the pastor, LEBEDEV, Murgio, and their co-conspirators took control of HOPE FCU. With GROSS’s assistance, Murgio installed LEBEDEV and various co-conspirators on HOPE FCU’s Board of Directors and transferred Coin.mx’s banking operations to HOPE FCU. GROSS also ceded operational control of the credit union to the board members installed by Murgio, including LEBEDEV. Thereafter, GROSS, LEBEDEV, and others worked to run tens of millions of dollars of ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions through the credit union without adequate capital or anti-money laundering controls, thus putting HOPE FCU’s financial condition at substantial risk.
GROSS, LEBEDEV, Murgio, and their co-conspirators also obstructed an examination of HOPE FCU by the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”) and made false statements to the NCUA in order to perpetuate LEBEDEV and Murgio’s control of the credit union. These included deliberately failing to disclose the bribe payments; misrepresenting the location of Coin.mx-affiliated businesses, including the “Collectables Club,” so as to claim that they were eligible to be members of the credit union and to serve as Board members; and manipulating the accounting at HOPE FCU so as to hide its true financial condition and the fact that it was processing tens of millions of dollars of ACH transactions without adequate controls. HOPE FCU was operated as a captive bank by MURGIO and his co-conspirators until the end of 2014. In October 2015, the NCUA placed HOPE FCU into conservatorship and subsequently liquidation.
On March 17, 2017, GROSS and LEBEDEV were convicted after a four-week jury trial of conspiring to make corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution, to receive corrupt payments by an officer of a financial institution, to obstruct an NCUA examination of a financial institution, and to make false statements to the NCUA. GROSS was also convicted of the receipt of corrupt payments by an officer of a financial institution. LEBEDEV was also convicted of making corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiring to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. In imposing today’s sentence, Judge Nathan found that GROSS committed perjury when he testified under oath at trial.
* * *
In addition to the prison sentences, GROSS, 47, of Jackson, New Jersey, and LEBEDEV, 39, of St. Johns, Florida, were each sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay fines of $12,000 and $10,000, respectively. In addition, GROSS and LEBEDEV were ordered to forfeit the proceeds of their crimes and to pay restitution, jointly and severally with Murgio, to the NCUA.
All four of LEBEDEV and GROSS’s co-defendants have been convicted and have been sentenced or are awaiting sentence by Judge Nathan.
Anthony R. Murgio pled guilty on January 9, 2017, to conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, conspiring to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and conspiring to obstruct an examination of HOPE FCU by the NCUA in furtherance of the illegal Coin.mx scheme. On June 27, 2017, Murgio was sentenced to 66 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $12,000 fine.
Michael J. Murgio pled guilty on October 27, 2016, to conspiring to obstruct an NCUA examination of a financial institution, and was sentenced on January 27, 2017, to one year of probation and a $12,000 fine.
Jose M. Freundt pled guilty on October 13, 2016, to operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, making corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution, conspiring to make corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution, wire fraud, and conspiring to commit wire fraud. Freundt is scheduled to be sentenced on December 18, 2017.
Ricardo Hill pled guilty on January 17, 2017, to operating an unlicensed money transmitting business; conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business; making corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution; conspiring to make corrupt payments to an officer of a financial institution, to receive corrupt payments by an officer of a financial institution, to obstruct an NCUA examination of a financial institution, and to make false statements to the NCUA; wire fraud; bank fraud; and conspiring to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. Hill is scheduled to be sentenced on December 18, 2017.
Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Secret Service. He also thanked the NCUA for its assistance with the investigation and prosecution.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eun Young Choi, Daniel S. Noble, and Won S. Shin are in charge of the prosecution.