Florida amends money laundering laws to cover bitcoin

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Men in Florida may get up to all sorts of strange things – just check out “Florida Man” – but money laundering using bitcoin can no longer be included on the list with the passage of laws preventing its use in criminal activity.

Florida’s legislature passed an amendment to the state law on money laundering late Friday that added the use of “virtual currency” to the list of what is considered “money.” A definition in the amendment defines virtual currency as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format that is not a coin or currency of the United States or any other country.”

The move to amend existing money laundering laws was driven by the dismissal of a case against Florida man Michell Espinoza in July last year after a judge found that bitcoin was not money under the existing law.

Espinoza’s lawyers argued at the time that bitcoin is not a real currency and was more akin to poker chips, its worth similar to how collectors assign values to baseball cards or comic books. The judge agreed, saying that “it is very clear, even to someone with limited knowledge in the area, that bitcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money.”

The amendment to Florida law now means that bitcoin is classified as virtual money under the act and treated the same way as fiat currencies, meaning future cases such as Espinoza’s could not be dismissed on the same grounds.

“Cybercriminals have taken advantage of our antiquated laws for too long,” House Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) told the Miami Herald. “Bitcoin bypasses the traditional banking system, and our state’s laws simply had not caught up to the upsurge in criminality in the world of cybercurrency.”

Having passed both the Florida House and Senate, the legislation will now go to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott for approval and is expected to be signed shortly.

Photo: rumblepress/Flickr