A motion graphic explains what Bitcoin is and how Bitcoin works.
Keith Carter and Ashley M. Williams, USA TODAY Network
Thomas Mario Constanzo(Photo: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)
A federal court jury convicted a Mesa Bitcoin trader on five counts of money laundering Thursday.
Thomas Mario Constanzo – known online as “Morpheus Titania” – was arrested in April 2017 and accused of taking nearly $165,000 from undercover agents posing as heroin and cocaine traffickers before exchanging it for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, according to court documents.
Constanzo used Bitcoin to purchase drugs in addition to providing the currency to others buying drugs online, prosecutors said.
A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona said Constanzo is facing 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the five counts. The Justice Department could seize the Bitcoin involved in the transactions as part of the sentencing.
Bitcoin isn’t regulated by the federal government and is exchanged from person to person over the internet.
Federal prosecutors also argued Constanzo charged between 7 to 10 percent commission on his transactions instead of the standard 1.5 percent.
The Arizona Republic previously reported a multi-agency task force found 60 rounds of ammunition during an April 2017 raid of Constanzo’s Mesa home. He was barred from possessing firearms because of a previous felony marijuana conviction.
Constanzo was scheduled for sentencing June 11 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
The case of his co-defendant, former Barrow Neurological Institute director Peter Steinmetz, ended last year after federal prosecutors dropped all charges.
Steinmetz had faced similar charges for operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. They were dismissed without prejudice in November 2017 after transcripts revealed the former brain scientist had refused to work with an agent posing as a Russian heroin buyer.
A future case could be filed if new evidence were to emerge.
Steinmetz gained notoriety in 2014 when he was arrested after carrying an AR-15 through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He said the stunt was intended to demonstrate his legal right to carry a firearm.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office opted not to pursue charges on the condition that Steinmetz not bring a weapon to any Phoenix-area airport for a two-year period.
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