Three Men Arrested for Operating Illegal Crypto ATMs in Ohio

Three Men Arrested for Operating Illegal Crypto ATMs in Ohio

April 3, 2023

Three individuals – along with one business – have been charged with running a string of illegal cryptocurrency ATMs across the northern region of Ohio. The people arrested are 45-year-old Sonny Meraban, 75-year-old Reza Meraban, and 69-year-old William Suriano.

Several Crypto ATMs Have Been Confiscated

Two of the men were arrested in Chicago, while the other was arrested in Miami. Overall, the case was handled by 28 law enforcement agents who had garnered more than 50 separate search warrants while looking into the matter. At the time of writing, 52 separate crypto ATMs have been confiscated in two counties. They all operated under the name “Bitcoin of America.”

Andrew Rogalski – economic crime supervisor and assistant prosecuting attorney – put out the following statement:

These ATMs were seized, 52 of them, yesterday from neighborhood gas stations mainly. These ATMs look like any other ATM. Essentially you put cash in, and you tell the machine where you want to send cash that’s converted into cryptocurrency that can go anywhere in the world usually by the means of a QR code or barcode that you can scan from your phone. These ATMs are ready-made for scammers. The scammers here, whether it’s romance scams or law enforcement impersonators, will direct the victims, which are often times elderly or otherwise vulnerable, to specifically go to Bitcoin of America ATMs, take money that they’ve withdrawn from their savings accounts or 401Ks, insert it into the bitcoin machine, and send it to a wallet that they’ve been sent over the phone, which they may think is their own wallet, but it really belongs to some third party that could be anywhere in the world.

Right now, the men have been charged with several crimes including money laundering, conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, receiving stolen property, and tampering with records, among other things. Rogalski added to his statement by mentioning:

We’re dealing with a new industry with cryptocurrency, but we’re not dealing with new laws. The same laws and the same legal theories apply to this business as any other businesses. Cryptocurrency is money. If you’re a money transmitter in the state of Ohio, you need to have a license.

Taking Money from Unsuspecting People

One of the biggest red flags with the operation was that the ATMs in question were taking as much as 20 percent in fees from the transactions they oversaw. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said:

One of the main issues was certainly the machines not being licensed in the state of Ohio, and these individuals [were] taking 20 percent of every transaction that occurred in the machine, but these machines were also used to scam elderly people in Northeast Ohio, including eight victims who were led to these machines through fraudulent means to transfer funds.

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