NEW YORK — Two Florida men with connections to a $200,000-asset New Jersey credit union are being investigated by the FBI for running an unlicensed Bitcoin exchange for the purposes of money laundering.

According to the FBI, Anthony Murgio and Yuri Lebedev ran a Bitcoin exchange through a phony front-company and Helping Other People Excel FCU in Jackson, N.J., that Murgio took control of for the scheme. The two men were arrested Tuesday in Florida and are expected to appear in court Wednesday.

The FBI alleges that since late 2013 — if not before that — the pair operated, a Bitcoin exchange service that enabled co-conspirators and customers to pay a fee to exchange cash for Bitcoins. "In doing so," an FBI release said, "they knowingly exchanged cash for people whom they believed may be engaging in criminal activity." The duo are also said to have exchanged cash for Bitcoins for victims of cyberattacks involving ransom money.

Murgio and Lebedev "knowingly enabled the criminals responsible for those attacks to receive the proceeds of their crimes, yet, in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws, Murgio never filed any suspicious activity reports regarding any of the transactions." exchanged at least $1.8 million for customers between October 2013 and January 2015, along with transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to accounts in Cyprus, Eastern Europe and Hong Kong, along with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank accounts in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.

In order to evade potential scrutiny, the FBI said Murgio obtained beneficial control of Jackson, N.J.-based Helping Other People Excel (HOPE) FCU, a $200,000-asset credit union with 100 members, serving primarily low-income residents. Murgio is alleged to have installed Lebedev and others on the CU's board and transferred's banking operations to the CU, which served as a captive for their business until early this year. Lebedev's LinkedIn account lists him as Lead Java Architect at HOPE from October 2014 to January 2015.

NCUA Aware

According to the FBI, NCUA discovered in early 2015 that substantial payment processing activity was being run through the credit union and HOPE was forced to stop that activity. Murgio then found other overseas payment channels.

Earlier this year a FinCEN report identified 50 credit unions as possible conduits for money-laundering activities similar to those Murgio and Lebedev are accused of.

In an e-mail to Credit Union Journal, NCUA spokesman John Fairbanks said the regulator is aware of the investigation but could not comment on law enforcement actions or CU supervision matters.

Murgio and Lebedev are each charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, each of which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. Murgio has also been charged with money laundering — a maximum 20-year sentence — and willful failure to file a suspicious activity report, which carries a maximum five-year sentence.

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