Founder of Liberty Reserve virtual currency sentenced to 20 years in prison

The company catered to cybercriminals, the DOJ says

The founder of now defunct virtual currency Liberty Reserve has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for using his company to run a huge money laundering scheme catering to cybercriminals.

Arthur Budovsky, 42, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, with Judge Denise Cote also ordering him to pay a US $500,000 fine.

In January, Budovsky pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering. During sentencing, Cote noted Budovsky ran an "extraordinarily successful" and "large-scale international money laundering operation."

The long sentence shows that "money laundering through the use of virtual currencies is still money laundering, and that online crime is still crime," Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division, said in a press release.

Liberty Reserve, launched in 2006 in Costa Rica, billed itself as the Internet's "largest payment processor and money transfer system” and allowed people all over the world to send and receive payments using virtual currency, according to an indictment. The DOJ accused Budovsky of being aware that the digital currencies were used by online criminals.

Liberty Reserve grew to become a financial hub for the criminal proceeds of Ponzi schemes, credit card trafficking, stolen identity information, and computer hacking, the DOJ said.

In May 2013, when government investigators shut the company down, Liberty Reserve had more than 5.5 million user accounts and had processed more than 78 million financial transactions, with a total value of more than $8 billion. The largest group were U.S. users, with about 600,000 accounts, who generated between $1 billion and $1.8 billion of the transactions, the DOJ said.

Four co-defendants, Vladimir Kats, Azzeddine El Amine, Mark Marmilev and Maxim Chukharev, have already pleaded guilty in the long-running investigation. Marmilev and Chukharev were sentenced to five years and three years in prison, respectively. Cote is expected to sentence Kats and El Amine this week.

Charges are pending against Liberty Reserve and two individual defendants who are fugitives.

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