The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has targeted Larry Dean Harmon, of Akron, Ohio, the founder of Helix and Coin Ninja in a first enforcement action targeting a crypto mixer. In a release, FinCEN said Harmon and his operations were assessed a $60 million civil penalty for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). FinCEN is the enforcement branch of the US Department of Treasury.
Mixers or Tumblers are methods utilized to cover the origins of digital assets by blending them with other transactions making it more difficult for authorities to trace the transactions.
Last February, Harmon was arrested and charged by federal authorities for laundering over 350,000 Bitcoin. At that time, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division stated:
“Helix allegedly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit narcotics proceeds and other criminal profits for Darknet users around the globe. This indictment underscores that seeking to obscure virtual currency transactions in this way is a crime, and that the Department can and will ensure that such crime doesn’t pay.”
Harmon is currently being prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on charges of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and the operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business in connection with his operation of Helix.
FinCEN said that Harmon operated Helix as an unregistered money services business (MSB) from 2014 to 2017 and Coin Ninja from 2017 to 2020.
FinCEN pointed to previous guidance that virtual currency platforms are money transmitters under the BSA and have an obligation to register with FinCEN. These platforms also must develop, implement, and maintain an anti-money laundering compliance program and to meet all applicable reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
FinCEN issued a clarification in 2019 that financial institutions that are mixers and tumblers of convertible virtual currency must also meet these same requirements.
FinCEN said that from June 2014 through December 2017, Helix conducted over 1,225,000 transactions for its customers and was associated with virtual currency wallet addresses that sent or received over $311 million dollars. FinCEN’s investigation claims to have identified at least 356,000 Bitcoin transactions through Helix.
Additionally, FinCEN said that Harmon advertised Helix’s services on the dark web as a way for customers to anonymously pay for things like drugs, guns, and child pornography. Harmon subsequently founded and acted as CEO of, Coin Ninja, which operated as an unregistered MSB and in the same manner as Helix.
Harmon was said to have deliberately disregarded his regulatory obligations including a failure to collect and verify customer names, addresses, and other identifiers on over 1.2 million transactions.
The FinCEN investigation allegedly revealed that Harmon engaged in transactions with narcotics traffickers, counterfeiters, and fraudsters, as well as other criminals. Harmon was said to have actively deleted even the minimal customer information he did collect.
FinCEN coordinated the enforcement action with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation division.