DOJ charges 'Bitcoin Jesus' with $48 million tax fraud, seeks extradition

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The Justice Department unveiled criminal tax fraud charges this week against a prolific bitcoin investor named Roger Ver. He came to be known as “Bitcoin Jesus,” for getting in early on the digital currency and making a fortune.

Ver allegedly evaded at least $48 million in taxes, according to the indictment announced Tuesday.

The indictment claims that Ver executed the fraud scheme by failing to report a portion of the 131,000 bitcoin that he owned in 2014, when he renounced his U.S. citizenship after becoming a citizen of the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

At the time, each bitcoin was worth roughly $871. It was trading Wednesday morning at $57,416, which would make Ver’s 131,000 bitcoins worth more than $7.5 billion.

Becoming a U.S. expat requires an individual to pay a special tax to the Internal Revenue Service. The DOJ alleges that in preparing those tax filings, Ver underrepresented his bitcoin holdings and evaded taxes on them.

The indictment further alleges that even after his expatriation from the U.S., Ver continued to underreport his bitcoin ownership, which he was still required to pay U.S. taxes on.

Ver was arrested in Spain over the weekend. The United States is seeking his extradition to face trial on eight counts related to tax evasion, mail fraud and filing false tax returns.

If convicted, Ver’s felony charges could see him return to federal prison, where he spent 10 months in 2002 after pleading guilty to selling explosives called “Pest Control Report 2000” on eBay.

As bitcoin has boomed and busted over the past decade, the government has begun to pay more attention to possible financial crimes associated with the digital currency. The IRS has worked to get more sophisticated in tracking bitcoin investors as the currency has gone more mainstream.

According to the indictment, the IRS used a strategy called “clustering analysis” to track the blockchain and identify Ver’s bitcoin transactions.

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Ver made his first million from bitcoin in 2011, the same year he started trading the digital currency, according to a 2013 CNBC profile.

As he poured investments into bitcoin and promoted the digital currency, some within the community came to know him as a Christ-like figure.

He told CNBC in 2013 that Peter Vessenes, founder of the Bitcoin Foundation, gave him the nickname “Bitcoin Jesus” while watching him explain the digital currency to some high school students.

“The kids were all enthralled by bitcoin, and hanging on my every word,” Ver told CNBC.

According to Ver, Vessenes then commented, “It’s like you are a Bitcoin Jesus, and you have all your disciples around you.”

It was unclear Wednesday if Ver had retained counsel in the case.

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