January 30, 2015 / 6:01 PM / 4 years ago

Indicted money exchange ex-worker gets three years in U.S. prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former information technology employee at the defunct digital currency exchange Liberty Reserve was sentenced on Friday to three years in a U.S. prison for his role in concealing what authorities described as a massive money laundering business for criminals worldwide.

Maxim Chukharev, 28, will likely serve approximately 10 months, with good behavior, after receiving credit for 10 months in a Costa Rican jail and 10 months in U.S. custody while awaiting trial, his lawyer said.

In court filings, prosecutors acknowledged that Chukharev was the “least culpable” of seven defendants charged with helping to operate Liberty Reserve, which authorities say was used almost exclusively by criminals to process money transfers connected to drug trafficking, child pornography, computer hacking and other crimes.

Chukharev was not fully aware of the extent of criminal conduct linked to Liberty Reserve, prosecutors said, but he knowingly helped the site evade U.S. licensing requirements that kept it from the attention of regulators.

He pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Chukharev told U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in New York on Friday.

His defense lawyer, Sarah Kunstler, said Chukharev was born in Uzbekistan, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and fled with his parents to Costa Rica to escape persecution. At the time he began working at Liberty Reserve, he believed it to be a legitimate business, she said.

Prosecutors say Liberty Reserve had more than one million users who processed 55 million transactions through the site, laundering more than $6 billion in suspected proceeds from criminal activity.

Three other defendants, including co-founder Vladimir Kats, have pleaded guilty in the case, while two others remain fugitives. The other co-founder, Arthur Budovsky, was extradited to the United States from Spain in October.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Gunna Dickson

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