On July 25, a Florida judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit dismissed criminal charges against an individual engaged in the business of selling bitcoin. Florida v. Espinoza, No. F14-2923 (Fl. Cir. Ct. July 26, 2016). The defendant conducted various bitcoin transactions with an undercover detective. The State of Florida had charged the individual with one count of unlawfully engaging in business as a money services business in violation of § 560.125(5)(a), Fla. Stat. and two counts of money laundering, in violation of § 896.101(5)(a) and (5)(b), Fla. Stat. The State later amended its filing to include charges of unlawfully operating as a “payment instrument seller” in violation of § 560.103(29), Fla. Stat. The judge dismissed the money-transmission-related charges, reasoning that (i) under the plain meaning of § 560.125(5)(a), a “money transmitter” would operate in a similar manner as a middleman in a financial transaction; and (ii) case law “requires that a fee must be charged to meet all the elements of being a money transmitter business.” The defendant, according to the judge, was not a middleman, but rather a seller. The judge further noted that the “difference in the price he purchased the Bitcoin for and what he sold it for is the difference between cost and expenses, the widely accepted definition of profit.” The judge also found that the defendant was not a “payment instrument seller” because bitcoin is not a payment instrument. The judge stated that “[b]itcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money,” and that “attempting to fit the sale of Bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services businesses is like fitting a square peg in a round hole.” The judge further dismissed the counts of money laundering, ultimately concluding that “[w]ithout legislative action geared towards a much needed updated to the particular language within [the relevant statutes], this Court finds that there is insufficient evidence as a matter of law that this Defendant committed any of the crimes as charged, and is, therefore, compelled to grant Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as to Counts II and III.”
On October 26, the FTC will host the second in a series of FinTech forums in Washington, D.C. Industry participants, consumer groups, researchers, and government representatives will gather to discuss the potential effects of crowdfunding and peer-to-peer payment systems on the consumer finance industry. Forum participants will “look at how the FTC Act and other existing consumer protection laws might apply to companies participating in these areas.” The FTC expects to release a complete schedule and other forum details in the near future.
On June 30, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 289, submitted at the request of the Office of the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks (Commissioner).The Act, which enacts the newly revised North Carolina Money Transmitters Act, subjects certain virtual currency activities to licensure, as well as clarifies that the Act applies to activities that are for personal, family, or household purposes. Applicants seeking licensure must do so via the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) and in accordance with requirements set forth by the Commissioner. Regarding licensure, the “Commissioner has the discretion to require the applicant obtain additional insurance coverage to address related cybersecurity risks inherent in the applicant’s business model as it relates to virtual currency transmission and to the extent such risks are not within the scope of the required surety bond.” The Act purports to be effective as of October 1, 2015.
On June 13, the NYDFS announced that it approved XRP II, LLC’s application for a virtual currency license. Before approving the company’s August 2015 application, NYDFS conducted a “rigorous review” of the company’s anti-money laundering, capitalization, consumer protection, and cybersecurity standards. To date, NYDFS has received 26 BitLicense applications; two companies, including this one, have been approved for BitLicenses and two have received state trust charters. NYDFS further noted that it recently denied two applications for a virtual currency license; the companies in receipt of the denial letters were ordered to stop any New York operations.
CFPB Takes Action Against North Dakota Payment Processor for Alleged Unauthorized Withdrawal Practices
On June 6, the CFPB filed a complaint against a North Dakota-based third-party payment processor and two of its senior executives for alleged violations of the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition against unfair acts and practices. Acting on behalf of its clients, the payment processor transferred funds electronically through a network called the Automated Clearing House, and in the process, according to the CFPB, the payment processor “ignored numerous red flags about the transactions they were processing, including repeated consumer complaints, warnings about potential fraud or illegality raised by banks involved in the transactions, unusually high return rates, and state and federal law enforcement actions against their clients.” The CFPB contends that the defendants failed to: (i) heed warnings, including federal and state enforcement actions taken against the defendants’ clients, from banks and consumers regarding potential fraud or unauthorized debits; (ii) adequately monitor and respond to “enormously” high return rates; and (iii) investigate “red flags” throughout its clients’ application processes that “should have caused it to… perform enhanced due diligence prior to accepting a client for processing.” Regarding the individuals’ involvement in the allegedly unlawful activity, the CFPB’s complaint alleges that both engaged in unfair acts and practices by “actively ignoring” a number of red flags associated with the payment processor’s business activities. The CFPB’s complaint seeks monetary relief, injunctive relief, and penalties.