How Ian Freeman Laundered Millions of Dollars in Bitcoin for Romance Scammers and Internet Fraudsters

By Evan Spicer

Director of Cryptocurrency Investigations

If you are a fan of libertarian activism and alternative currencies, you may have heard of Ian Freeman, a radio show host and bitcoin enthusiast from New Hampshire. Freeman was one of the leaders of the Crypto Six, a group of libertarians who operated a network of bitcoin kiosks and promoted the use of cryptocurrency as a way to avoid government regulation and taxation.

But Freeman was not just a passionate advocate for bitcoin. He was also a criminal who used his business to launder over $10 million in proceeds of romance scams and other internet frauds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire. Freeman was convicted by a federal jury in December 2022 and sentenced to eight years in prison in October 2023. And on February 13, 2024, he was ordered to pay more than $3.5 million in restitution to 29 victims, mostly elderly people who were duped by online scammers into sending money to Freeman’s bitcoin kiosks.

How Freeman’s Scheme Worked

Freeman operated his bitcoin kiosks under the name of Shire Free Church, which he claimed was a religious organization and hence tax-exempt. He also opened accounts at financial institutions in the names of other churches, such as the Church of the Invisible Hand, the Crypto Church of New Hampshire, and the NH Peace Church. He used these accounts to receive money from victims under the guise of being donations.

Freeman’s customers were mostly fraudsters who contacted victims online and pretended to be their romantic partners, relatives, friends, or business associates. They would ask the victims to send money for various reasons, such as medical emergencies, travel expenses, legal fees, or investments. The victims would then deposit cash or wire money to Freeman’s bank accounts or visit his bitcoin kiosks and exchange their money for bitcoin. Freeman would then transfer the bitcoin to the fraudsters’ wallets, charging exorbitant fees in the process.

Freeman did not register his business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) as required by law. He also disabled “know your customer” features on his bitcoin kiosks and ensured that his customers did not tell him what they did with their bitcoin. He did this to avoid detection and reporting of suspicious transactions. He also failed to pay taxes on his income and concealed his assets from the IRS.

The Impact on the Victims

Freeman’s scheme caused significant financial and emotional harm to his victims, who lost their life savings, retirement funds, or inheritance money to the scammers. Some of the victims were elderly people who suffered from cognitive impairment or dementia and were manipulated by the fraudsters into believing that they were in love or in need of help.

One of the victims was a 78-year-old woman from Texas who met a man online who claimed to be a U.S. Army general stationed in Afghanistan. The man told her that he loved her and wanted to marry her, but he needed money to pay for his travel expenses and medical bills. The woman sent him over $200,000 through Freeman’s bitcoin kiosks over a period of two years. She later learned that the man was not who he said he was and that she had been scammed.

Another victim was a 69-year-old woman from Florida who met a man online who claimed to be an engineer working on an oil rig in the North Sea, off the Norwegian coast. The man told her that he had a contract worth millions of dollars and that he needed money to pay for taxes and fees. The woman sent him over $300,000 through Freeman’s bank accounts over a period of three years. She later discovered that the man was a fraudster who had used stolen photos and identities to lure her.

Justice for the Victims

Freeman’s conviction and sentencing were the result of a joint investigation by the FBI, IRS, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Homeland Security, New Hampshire State Police, the Keene and Manchester police departments, and the sheriffs offices of Cheshire,  Rockingham, Merrimack, Strafford, Belknap, Carroll,  Grafton, Sullivan, and Coos counties.

“Ian Freeman’s money laundering business caused many vulnerable people unnecessary anguish,” stated U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young. “Nothing will ever take away the pain he caused these victims, but I am grateful that the dedicated prosecution team on this case was able to make many of them financially whole.”

Young also urged everyone to protect themselves and their older loved ones by learning the indicators of these types of scams. “It is rare for victims of romance scams and other international fraud schemes to have their money returned to them because of the anonymity that businesses like Ian Freeman’s offer fraudsters,” she noted. “I urge everyone to protect themselves and their older loved ones by learning the indicators of these types of scams, so that you are better prepared to prevent being victimized.”

Freeman’s restitution order includes the forfeiture of about 5.24 bitcoin currently valued at more than $258,000 and about $1.1 million in U.S. currency. The order also requires Freeman to pay $3,502,708.69 to 29 victims, ranging from $1,000 to $1,000,000 per victim.

Freeman’s co-defendants, Colleen Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, Nobody (formerly known as Rich Paul), and Aria DiMezzo, have pleaded guilty to various charges and are awaiting sentencing.