U.S. v. Roman Sterlingov
21-cr-00399-RDM (D.D.C)

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The Government nabs the wrong man through speculative blockchain analysis.

The United States has unjustly arrested early Bitcoin adopter Roman Sterlingov. They seized all his assets and he has been sitting in prison over 2.5 years waiting for his Sept. 14th, 2023 trial in Washington D.C. He stands accused of operating the Bitcoin Fog mixing service and tumbling over $330 million of illegal proceeds. Except there is not a single shred of evidence that he ever operated Bitcoin Fog and all the accusations are based on shoddy Blockchain forensics at desks 6,000 miles away from Roman’s home in Sweden, most of which were done by Chainalysis, Inc.

Roman desperately needs funds for legal fees and expenses. His lawyers need lodging in D.C for the 2 months of trial, blockchain forensics experts, legal assistants, trial technicians, transcripts, printing & copying, legal research, subpoena servers, and a host of other expenses associated with a trial of this magnitude.

Roman Sterlingov is a computer geek, an early adopter who started using Bitcoin in 2011- not the crypto drug money laundering kingpin this Kafkaesque prosecution portrays him as. There is no evidence for that; the Government’s speculative accusations have no corroborating evidence. No eyewitnesses, no evidence at all of Roman operating a BitCoin tumbling onion site with a staff for a decade. No Admin logins, notes, communications, emails, nothing. After an extensive and expensive Government investigation spanning seven years that involved surveillance, wire taps, and pen traps on Roman. This is the first time that Chainalysis Reactor software and this type of blockchain forensics are being challenged at trial in a U.S. Federal Criminal Court.

Bitcoin Fog Case Could Put Cryptocurrency Tracing on Trial | WIRED

In November 2019 an IRS Agent in Washington, D.C. connected to the Tor Network, and went to foggeddriztrcar2.onion, an Onion site called Bitcoin Fog to tumble some Bitcoin (BTC). Tumbling anonymizes the owner of the BTC like the encryption on your bank account. It makes it harder to target your digital assets for theft.  It’s legal, and good InfoSec practiced by people all over the world. 

Despite this, the Government says the IRS Agent’s unilateral act of logging and accessing Government accounts on an Onion site and directing BTC from it to another Government controlled wallet means Roman is liable for ten years of money laundering as the operator of BitCoin Fog.  And that his jury trial should be in Washington, D.C., 4,000 miles (about 6,437.38 km) away from his home in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he moved from Russia with his mom at age 14.
Roman had never set foot in D.C. before. 

Roman got into BTC early, in 2011, while in his early twenties. He learned how to set up wallets, and as a side gig to his work for a Swedish internet marketing company, he set up wallets with BTC for people, charging a small commission. On January 1, 2011, BTC trades at 1BTC = 30 U.S. Cents. This is the period he accumulated his crypto; but concerned with crypto’s volatility he decided to get a backup job in case his digital assets got wiped out. He decided to become a commercial airline pilot and signed up for an intensive training program in Nevada.

On April 27, 2021, 32-year-old dual Swedish-Russian citizen Roman Sterlingov is traveling through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on his way to the flight school intensive when FBI Agents arrest him. They seize the computer geek and crypto-investor’s computers, 3 Terabytes of hard drives, SD cards, thumb drives, back up account codes, handwritten notes, cell phones, etc., and he’s been in jail since. None of the electronics or storage devices or anything else seized at LAX has any evidence of Roman operating an Onion crypto tumbling site that has a staff and would have required constant maintenance. 

A six year investigation and nothing. Roman sits in jail, perplexed; the last plea offer was 25 to life. 

Nonetheless, the Government charges Roman via a bare bones Indictment with conspiracy to money launder, operating an unlicensed money transmission business, and violating D.C.’s municipal code for money transmission without a license. His seized assets are subject to forfeiture.

Why This Is Important

This prosecution puts every person who uses cryptocurrencies at risk. The Government should only use scientifically sound, peer-reviewed, accepted, verifiable forensics techniques – and they haven’t done that here.

The Government’s case dives down the internet rabbit hole.  A guessing game, rife with errors and misattribution. An arbitrary prosecution. Based on bad forensics with no corroborating evidence. No eyewitnesses, emails, communications. Nothing.

What You Can Do To Help

Roman’s trial is September 14, 2023 in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. We expect it to last a month.

The Government seized Roman’s money on top of jailing him pretrial 4000 miles (6437.38 km) from home. We’ve been paying for the case with our own money, going into debt, and are struggling to cover our expenses. But because we believe in Roman’s innocence we are going to stick it out to the end. If you want to help please donate, and spread the word, 

Federal Criminal Defense is expensive. It is why so many innocent people take plea deals even when they’re wrongly accused. It’s not a fair system, it’s rigged in favor of the prosecution in numerous unspoken ways. The prosecutors have millions of dollars and the resources of the Department of Justice at their disposal; we’re two lawyers and one client up against the Death Star.

Trial expenses, in a regular case, include printing, travel, experts, trial graphics, IT, discovery, mock juries, litigation consultants, postage, presentation software, research costs and more.  Not to mention hundreds of hours of work by our attorneys and support staff. In a computer crimes case like this? Add even more discovery and a team of computer forensics and blockchain experts. 

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