The legal debate over bitcoin is getting tricky across state lines.
Is bitcoin money? A judge in New York on Monday ruled it is.
The ruling followed an opposite conclusion in Florida in July. A judge in that state dismissed charges of illegally transmitting and laundering $1,500 in bitcoin on the grounds that bitcoin wasn’t a currency.
This time around, US District Judge Alison Nathan declined to dismiss charges against Anthony Murgio for operating an unlicensed bitcoin exchange. Murgio had argued to have his charges dismissed because bitcoins did not qualify as “funds” noted in federal law forbidding unlawful money transmitting, according to Reuters.
“Bitcoins are funds within the plain meaning of that term,” Nathan wrote in her decision. “Bitcoins can be accepted as a payment for goods and services or bought directly from an exchange with a bank account. They therefore function as pecuniary resources and are used as a medium of exchange and a means of payment.”
That’s a different conclusion than the one a Florida judge drew about the cryptocurency.
“They [bitcoin] are certainly not tangible wealth and cannot be hidden under a mattress like cash and gold bars,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler wrote in July.
The New York ruling complicates the trend of how bitcoin has been defined across states.
In Kansas and Texas, regulators have said bitcoin would not be counted as currency when it comes to the states’ money transmitter laws. New York’s ruling is one of the first to move in a different direction.
At the same time, it’s more in line with what experts think. Even if bitcoin isn’t exactly a currency, it still has “tangible value” and can be laundered like anything else, David Yermack, chair of the finance department at the New York University Stern School of Business, where he teaches the course “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies,” said in July.
Murgio’s New York case tied back to a hacking scheme that targeted JP Morgan. The owner of Coin.mx ran that large-scale 2014 hacking operation, Reuters reported.
If only Murgio had operated his bitcoin exchange in Florida.