An Ontario man has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of running an unlicensed company that exchanged tens of millions of dollars in Bitcoin and cash, along with money laundering, prosecutors said.
Hugo Sergio Mejia, 49, was charged Friday, Jan. 29 and entered into a plea agreement also filed Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
From May 2018 to September 2020, Mejia operated a virtual business that exchanged Bitcoin for cash, and vice versa, charging commissions for these transactions, according to the plea agreement. Mejia admitted never registering his business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a Treasury Department bureau that combats financial crimes including money laundering, U.S. Justice Department prosecutors said in the release.
During the period, Mejia exchanged at least $13 million, according to the plea agreement.
Mejia also admitted he established companies to mask his true activity, including Worldwide Secure Communications, World Secure Data and The HODL Group. His business was advertised online and was referred to customers by word of mouth, communicating with them through encrypted messaging services, and meeting them in person at coffee shops, the plea agreement states.
Between May 2019 and March 2020, Mejia met with a client, who was working with law enforcement, to exchange Bitcoin for tens of thousands of dollars in cash, according to the plea agreement.
On March 12, 2020, Mejia met with the client at a coffee shop in Irvine and facilitated the exchange of 14.273 Bitcoin for $82,150 in cash plus fees, the DOJ said. Mejia and the client conducted five Bitcoin-cash transactions that cumulatively exceeded $250,000, the plea agreement states.
At one point, prosecutors said, Mejia was told by the client that his primary customer was a methamphetamine buyer in Australia.
Mejia agreed to forfeit all assets derived from the illegal conduct, including $233,987 in cash seized from residences in Santa Ana and Ontario, silver coins and bars, and approximately $95,587 in various cryptocurrency seized.
Mejia will face a statutory maximum sentence of 25 years in federal prison.
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