47-year-old New Jersey pastor Trevon Gross, who apparently “accepted his call to preach at a very young age” according to his profile on the website for HOPE Cathedral in Jackson, New Jersey, and “was licensed to preach at the age of 14” was sentenced to five years behind bars for allegedly plotting to protect an illegal bitcoin exchange operation from being discovered by banks and other regulators.
Gross was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan. Judge Nathan also ordered the pastor to pay a hefty $12,000 fine, according to prosecutors. The bitcoin exchange operation, Coin.mx, had been linked to an investigation of a data breach at JPMorgan Chase & Co, which was exposed in 2014. The breach compromised more than 83 million accounts.
In total, the investigation into the data breach led to charges against nine people who were involved. Coin.mx was owned by an Israeli, Gary Shalon, who was behind the JPMorgan hack. Shalon has been accused of working with Maryland-born Joshua Samuel Aaron to carry out the cyber attacks which resulted in information theft from more than 100 million people. Shalon and Aaron initially pleaded not guilty to criminal charges.
Gross was convicted by a jury in March along with co-conspirator of the operation, Yuri Lebedev, a Florida software engineer, and the operator of Coin.mx, Anthony Murgio. Prosecutors said Murgio and Lebedev charged customers a fee to exchange cash for bitcoins and, between October 2013 and January 2015, they allegedly exchanged at least $1.8 million for bitcoins, helping tens of thousands of customers.
“In doing so, they knowingly exchanged cash for people whom they believed may be engaging in criminal activity,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in July 2015. Gross was charged with accepting bribes, including $150,000 in donations to his church. In exchange, the pastor helped Murgio run a small credit union associated with the church. Murgio used the credit union to escape the scrutiny of banks wary of processing payments involving the virtual currency.
Lebedev, who was accused of working for Coin.mx through a front he established, Collectables Club, was sentenced to sixteen months imprisonment. Murgio pleaded guilty in January and in June was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said, “Anthony Murgio’s criminal business model consisted of a phony front company hiding an illegal internet Bitcoin exchange. Murgio laundered money, lied to banks, and took over a federal credit union to further his scheme. Murgio’s was an age-old fraud by new age means. And for his crimes, the court has sentenced him to over five years in federal prison.” Mr. Kim thanked the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Secret Service for bringing the men to justice. He also thanked the NCUA for its assistance with the prosecution.
An attorney representing Gross, Henry E. Klingeman, stated regarding the court’s decision, “On behalf of Pastor Gross, we will now seek a judgment of acquittal from the Court and – if and when the time comes – a fair and lenient sentence.”