Legislators in Florida are considering a bill that would add digital currencies like Bitcoin to the money-laundering statute. The legislation is a response to last year's dismissal of money-laundering charges in a case that involved a man in Miami beach. The defendant allegedly sold $1,500 in Bitcoin to undercover detectives who had reportedly told him that they intended to purchase stolen credit card numbers. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler had thrown out the money-laundering charges after determining that Bitcoin could not be considered "money" as that term was defined in state law.
The bill adds the words "virtual currency" to the language used to define "monetary instruments" in the state's current Money Laundering Act, while defining virtual currency as any “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format that is not a coin or currency of the United States or any other country.” Virtual currency is a term that many lawmakers and media outlets use when referring to digital currency.
Lawmakers reportedly received input for the bill's language from cyber-crime prosecutors in Miami-Dade County. In a statement quoted by the Miami Herald, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle asserted that, “The high-tech criminals of the 21st Century use virtual currencies like bitcoin to accumulate and hide the profits of their illegal activities. This legislation makes sure that traffickers and fraudsters can no longer try to use internet-based currencies to hide and move their ill-gotten gains.’’
The Florida House and Senate are each considering their own version of the bill. The House bill last week received unanimous support as it easily passed through the appropriations committee. Progress on the Senate bill lags somewhat behind the House, though it has been approved by two Senate subcommittees. The Senate appropriations committee has yet to vote on the measure.
The legislation appears to have solid support from prosecutors and law enforcement, with proponents arguing that this is a gray area in the law that desperately needs to be addressed. Digital currency supporters and other critics of the proposed law remain skeptical, however. As Bitcoin specialist and Barry University economist Charles Evans said:
“Florida legislators will be sending a very clear signal that financial innovation is not welcome here. No doubt, officials in China, Europe, Russia, Texas, and other places where Bitcoin is welcome will be pleased.”