Virgil Griffith was sentenced to more than five years in prison and fined USD $100,000 for advising more than 100 people in North Korea on using cryptocurrencies to evade US sanctions.
The former Ethereum developer was arrested in November 2019 for giving a presentation at a crypto conference in Pyongyang earlier in April that same year. Griffith pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to violate international sanctions against North Korea, admitting he went and presented at the conference even after the US government had denied his request to travel there.
The 39-year-old was facing the prospect of a 20-year maximum sentence for the crime but his plea deal with federal prosecutors has brought the sentence down to the range of 63 to 78 months, approximately five to 6.5 years.
Prosecutors said Griffith was aware of how his knowledge would help the attendees.
“Griffith is an American citizen who chose to evade the sanctions of his own country to provide services to a hostile foreign power,” prosecutors wrote. “He did so knowing that power – North Korea – was guilty of atrocities against its own people and has made threats against the United States citing its nuclear capabilities.”
In a statement, Griffith’s attorney Brian Klein called the sentence disappointing, but was “pleased the judge acknowledged Virgil’s commitment to moving forward with his life productively, and that he is a talented person who has a lot to contribute.”
Griffith became well-known in the tech world during the 2000’s. In 2007, he created WikiScanner, a tool that aimed to uncover people, businesses or institutions who edit Wikipedia entries anonymously.
Griffith also has a history cooperating with the FBI both before and after the conference in Pyongyang, educating law enforcement about the dark web. This was used by the defence as evidence of his good nature but was deemed by Judge Kevin Castel as narcissism.
Castel said, “this guy is willing to play both sides of the street as long as he is the centre of attention.”
The judge and prosecution referred to the war in Ukraine and the use of sanctions against Russia, as well as the importance of deterring Griffith and others from violating sanctions in the future.