GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The former president of The Geek Group, an educational facility that provided high-tech equipment for students and inventors, has pleaded guilty related to money laundering and illegal Bitcoin trading.
Christopher Allan Boden, 46, of Grand Rapids, pleaded guilty Monday, Oct. 18, to money laundering, operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business and structuring transactions to evade reporting requirement.
Two others recently pleaded guilty to charges.
Executive Director Leesa Beth Vogt, 37, of Grand Rapids, pleaded guilty to structuring transactions to evade reporting requirement while consultant Daniel Reynod DeJager, 35, of Tacoma, Washington, pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, court records show.
Boden signed a plea agreement that said he and his co-defendants operated an unlicensed money-transmitting business. He would sell Bitcoin to customers and supervised and directed others at The Greek Group to sell it.
Boden obtained Bitcoin – a cryptocurrency, essentially a computer file typically stored in a “digital wallet” – from DeJager, who bought it from exchanges. The defendants sold over $740,000 in Bitcoin, the plea agreement said.
“The defendant knew that some of his customers were involving in buying and selling controlled substances, and they sold these customers bitcoin knowing that the cash he received in return was derived from the sale of controlled substances, or that the bitcoin would be used to purchase controlled substances,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Presant wrote in the plea agreement.
He said that Boden sent, or directed others to send, U.S. currency, including proceeds from Bitcoin sales, and recorded deposits in a Chase Bank account in Facebook messages. The transactions were kept below $10,000, an amount that would trigger a reporting requirement, the prosecutor said.
“The defendant and DeJager sometimes ‘mixed’ or ‘tumbled’ the bitcoin – that is, they laundered it – before selling it,” Presant wrote in the plea agreement. They did that to “promote their unlicensed money transmitting business and to conceal the origin of the bitcoin. The defendant would tell customers that he sold ‘clean’ bitcoin that could not be traced to them, unlike licensed exchanges, which the defendant said sold ‘dirty’ bitcoin,” Presant wrote.
He said that Boden and DeJager sold Bitcoin at The Geek Group to an undercover investigator for $15,000 in cash. The investigator, according to the plea agreement, said the cash was proceeds of cocaine sales, the plea agreement said.
Over $100,000 was deposited over the course of the year, the plea agreement said.
Boden faces up to 20 years in prison and has agreed to forfeit Bitcoin and $75,000, representing proceeds of the crime, the prosecutor said. DeJager also faces up to 20 years in prison while Vogt faces up to 10 years.
They are free on bond pending February sentencing hearings by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids.
The defendants were indicted in February after a lengthy investigation.
The Geek Group, also known as the National Science Institute, a registered non-profit organization, provided educational opportunities, including use of high-tech equipment for students, inventors and others.
The organization would also hand out used computers for little or no cost to children whose families were struggling.
The government raided the facility – in the former West YMCA building at 902 Leonard St. NW – in December 2018. Two weeks later, the company announced it was closed.
In the days after the raid, Boden said on Facebook: “The problem is, we never found a way to do it and make enough of a revenue to sustain it,” he wrote. “We tried, some of us for decades, and ultimately failed. We’ve been broke as a joke for years and stumbled through, but with the recent PR hit by from being raided by four different Federal agencies while being unable to actually tell people the truth about why, we’ve finally hit the wall.”
He said The Geek Group was a “dream” shared by organizers.
In announcing the closing, he said: “The Bohemian Brothers, that evolved into the group called GeNext!, that began the company called The Geek Group, and eventually The National Science Institute will formally shut down operations to the public.”
Homeland Security Investigations and IRS-Criminal Investigation were assisted by Grand Rapids police in the case.