Jurors Weigh Charges Against a Pastor and Software Engineer in Bitcoin Trial
Jurors in Manhattan federal court on Friday prepared to weigh charges against a Florida software engineer and a New Jersey pastor accused of scheming to help an illegal bitcoin exchange escape scrutiny.
The unlicensed bitcoin exchange, Coin.mx, was linked to an investigation of a data breach at J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) that exposed more than 83 million accounts. The company disclosed the breach in 2014.
Prosecutors claim that Yuri Lebedev helped arrange bribes to pastor Trevon Gross, including $150,000 in donations to his church. In exchange, they say, Gross helped the operator of Coin.mx, Anthony Murgio, take over a small credit union Gross ran from his church.
Murgio used the credit union to evade scrutiny of banks wary of processing payments involving the virtual currency, prosecutors say. Lebedev is accused of working for Coin.mx through a front called “Collectables Club.”
But lawyers for Lebedev, 39, and Gross, 47, have painted a different picture, saying their clients did not know that Murgio was running an illegal operation.
In a closing statement on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eun Young Choi reviewed numerous text messages, emails and voice recordings presented to jurors during the four-week trial, which she said proved that Lebedev and Gross acted with “corrupt intent.”
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Lebedev’s lawyer, Eric Creizman, in his closing statement called the evidence a “hodgepodge” designed to “maximize the smoke” around Lebedev.
“But if you look behind the smoke, there’s no fire there,” he said.
Henry Klingeman, Gross’ lawyer, likewise said his client “never thought, at the time these things were happening, that he was doing anything illegal.”
In a rebuttal delivered on Friday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Noble again urged the jury to consider what he called a “mountain of documentary evidence.”
The trial followed a probe rooted in the J.P. Morgan data breach, which lead to charges against nine people.
Gross, Lebedev and Murgio were not accused of hacking. But prosecutors said Coin.mx was owned by an Israeli who was behind the breach, Gery Shalon.
Prosecutors say Shalon, together with Maryland-born Joshua Samuel Aaron, orchestrated cyber attacks that resulted in the theft of information from more than 100 million people.
Prosecutors said they carried out the hacks to further other schemes with another Israeli, Ziv Orenstein, including pumping up stock prices with promotional emails. Shalon, Aaron and Orenstein have pleaded not guilty.
Murgio pleaded guilty to charges related to Coin.mx in January. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16.