American law enforcement just illustrated how important cryptocurrency has become in the criminal world. Federal agents have charged Ohio resident Larry Harmon for allegedly running a darknet-based Bitcoin "mixer" that laundered the equivalent of roughly $300 million for drug dealers and other crooks. Helix, as it was called while it ran between 2014 and 2017, reportedly let customers pay to send Bitcoin in a way that hid the true source. It operated with "brazenness," the IRS' Don Fort said. Helix supposedly partnered with AlphaBay to serve the darknet black market's customers, and advertised Helix on the Grams search engine (which Harmon apparently ran) as a way to hide deals from police.
It's not clear what level of punishment authorities want if Harmon is found guilty. However, the charges of money laundering conspiracy, running an unlicensed money transmitting business and sending money without a DC license could add up to a significant amount of time behind bars. A charge for an unlicensed money transmitting business carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison by itself.
The charge is a win for feds who want to show they can take down all the infrastructure for a darknet criminal marketplace, not just the main organization. It's also a symbolic blow given the sheer scale of the claimed operations. At the same time, we wouldn't count on this being a deterrent. If true, Harmon was running a large operation relatively openly -- smaller or stealthier outlets might be harder to take down.