In 2014, the Internal Revenue Service declared that bitcoins are property but not money. Florida Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pooler decided in July that if that’s so, then Michell Espinoza can’t be guilty of acting as an unlicensed money transmitter or money launderer for selling bitcoins to a cop.
A police officer exchanged cash for the cryptocurrency with Espinoza on multiple occasions, at one point saying he would buy credit card numbers online with it. Espinoza was eventually arrested for money laundering and for unlawfully engaging in business as a money transmitter. But since he did not receive the cash “for the purpose of transmitting same to a third party,” Judge Pooler wrote, he is not a “money transmitter”—just a guy selling a legal commodity.
“The Florida Legislature may choose,” Pooler wrote, “to adopt statutes regulating virtual currency in the future.” But for now, “attempting to fit the sale of Bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services businesses” won’t fly. Nor did hearing the cop say he would use bitcoin to do something illegal make Espinoza a “money launderer.”
Brian Bieber, a Miami lawyer who wrote an amicus brief in the case, says the decision is “definitely a big deal” in the bitcoin world. If the cryptocurrency were “considered money, it opens it up to other potential restrictive regulations and can increase the probability of hampering the free trade that bitcoin users now enjoy.”