SEATTLE — After allegedly taking money from undercover agents posing as human traffickers, a Bothell man has been accused in a Bitcoin money laundering scheme.
Kenneth Rhule, 26, was charged earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle with conducting an unlicensed money transmitting business, conspiracy to produce and distribute marijuana and five counts of laundering of monetary instruments. He could face up to 40 years in prison, U.S. attorneys note.
According to charging papers, law enforcement learned in April 2018 that the suspect had been operating an unlicensed Bitcoin exchange. Under the guise that they needed to launder money from human trafficking activities, agents met with the man at Starbucks shops throughout Snohomish and King counties. The suspect reportedly agreed to give them Bitcoin in exchange for cash — totaling $140,000 through several exchanges — and even gave them advice on how to hide the source of their new-found virtual currency.
Early on, agents told the man they were working with people in Ukraine to traffic women to the U.S.
“I don’t want them to have any idea how to get a hold of me … identify me,” an undercover agent said, according to court documents. “I want it all very anonymous.”
“This is the way to go then,” the suspect allegedly said, then gave them a breakdown on how they could hide their identity from the sellers.
Meanwhile, the defendant allegedly was running an unlicensed marijuana businesses out of Monroe, manufacturing hash oil and other products. According to charges, he used Instagram to find buyers and sold the marijuana for cryptocurrency.
While the defendant claimed in his businesses’ Instagram biographies that he didn’t do sales, people often inquired about buying through direct messages. The suspect allegedly would then ask to switch to an encrypted messaging service, like Signal or Wickr.
One customer reportedly messaged the suspect, “I’m always looking for your stuff in the shops, but I guess you guys don’t sell as north as Whidbey lol.”
“We dont do 502 retail in washington,” the suspect replied, referring to the state initiative that legalized marijuana.
On the suspect’s Google photo accounts, agents found pictures of the man standing with equipment used to distill and extract marijuana, and several large bags of marijuana trim used to make products.
“We process about 350lbs of trim a week,” he told one customer.
Rhule was released from custody, under the condition that he attend future court hearings.