Cointelegraph spoke with Dr. Charles Evans— the first expert witness in a criminal case to be paid with bitcoin. In the interview with Cointelegraph, Evans discusses his non-profit Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation, pictures the chain of colorful but unhappy events that put a Bitcoin activist, Michel Espinoza behind the bars, and talks about his position with the court of law. Dr. Evans also explains why Bitcoin today should be taken more seriously as ever.
Dr. Charles Evans is Associate Professor of Economics and Finance at Barry University in Miami, Florida, and Founding Director of Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation—has been involved with virtual currencies for almost two decades.
First, from an academic and activist perspective following the release of Digicash's eCash in 1995, and later working within some of the gold-backed 'e-currencies' that followed during the Dot-Com Bubble. After the 9/11 Attacks and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, investor interest in this industry essentially fell off the face of the earth, and he returned to academia to teach Economics and Finance.
“[I am] the first expert witness in a criminal case to be paid with Bitcoin.”
- Dr. Charles Evans
Cointelegraph: Tell us about the history of your non-profit.
Charles Evans: After a year-and-a-half of getting together each month to celebrate Bitcoin's virtues, the founders of the Miami International Bitcoin meetup group hired an attorney who specializes in non-profit organizations in July 2013 and incorporated Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation (CEF) in November 2013 to promote virtual currency among the 70-75% of the world's population that is unbanked. We received notification of CEF's non-profit status on September 11, 2014 making it the second Bitcoin-focused organization in the USA to be granted non-profit status by the IRS. (BitGive was the first.)
“Bitcoin supporters in Africa very actively seek our advice, and watching them adapt to this strange, new, blockchained world is an absolute delight.”
CEF has adopted the Bono Declaration of August 2013 as its motto: "Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid."
The majority of our international contacts are in Sub-Saharan Africa, much to our surprise. When we started, we expected that our focus would be on Latin America and the Caribbean. Instead, Bitcoin supporters in Africa very actively seek our advice, and watching them adapt to this strange, new, blockchained world is an absolute delight.
If the writers at Forbes are correct that African Cheetahs are this generation's Asian Tigers, then it looks as though it will be driven by Bitcoin and related technologies.
Through CEF, we serve as advisers for Dream Bitcoin Foundation in Ghana, and recruit interns here in South Florida for Alakanani Itireleng in Botswana, Philip Agyei Asare in Ghana, and Mustapha Cole in Sierra Leone. Through them, our interns gain access to Bitcoin supporters in Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, who are establishing a Pan-African Bitcoin association.
Several of my students already are working on commercial ventures with partners that they have met this way, and I am looking forward to helping these projects move forward.
But for Bitcoin, the "Developing World" might as well have been on another planet, as far as trading with individuals there is concerned. Now, individuals in what we prefer to call the Emerging Middle-Income Regions of the world are able to leapfrog from unbanked to bank-free—as they went from unwired to wireless a generation ago—and to engage in small-scale cross-border trade as equals.
“Michel Espinoza was one of two young men who were arrested in February 2014 for offering to sell bitcoins to undercover police officers in Miami Beach.”
CT: How and why Mr. Espinoza has been arrested and what is your involvement in the case?
CE: Shortly after the first North American Bitcoin Conference (NABC), Michel Espinoza was one of two young men who were arrested in February 2014 for offering to sell bitcoins to undercover police officers in Miami Beach. The cases are separate, although many news accounts imply that they are connected. Anyone who wants to know the specifics of the charges and the evidence against Mr. Espinoza should communicate with his attorney, Rene Palomino in Miami.
As I understand it, after seeing the burlesque escapades of the NABC—an annual event organized by someone with no ties to South Florida that more closely resembles a frat party than a financial services trade show—local law enforcement investigators came away with a very negative impression of Bitcoin and determined to take steps against it.
While the prosecutor's decision to move forward is now very unfortunate, it was understandable at the time, considering the vast amount of financial fraud that takes place in this region. If my introduction to Bitcoin had been topless young ladies in gold body paint—however entertaining that otherwise might be—and calls to end the Federal Reserve at a weekend party in Miami Beach, I might have come to similar conclusions.
Remember, this was at the height of the MtGox implosion, when Bitcoin was synonymous with Silk Road among mainstream media talking heads, Charlie Shrem was arrested, and economists like Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen were predicting Bitcoin's impending demise with witty wordplay and economic logic. It was a time when Bitcoin supporters really needed to be putting their best foot forward and not taunting the Eye of Sauron.
Roll the clock ahead one year, and IRS officials have declared bitcoin to be property, like Magic: The Gathering playing cards; former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt is consulting with Bitcoin startups; Kathleen Moriarty—the legendary lawyer who ushered the first exchange traded fund (ETF) through the SEC two decades ago—is handling the Winklevoss Bitcoin ETF application; the CFTC has approved several bitcoin derivatives for institutional investors; the SEC has issued Second Market's Bitcoin Investment Trust a ticker symbol (GBTC); the New York Stock Exchange and a former CEO of Citigroup have participated in a US$75 million investment in Coinbase; the Governor and former Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott, accepted bitcoin during his campaign; and Republican candidate for President in 2016, Rand Paul, is accepting bitcoin for his campaign.
My role is to explain to the court what Bitcoin is, what it is good for, and why anyone should take it seriously.
“I have agreed to work for Mr. Espinoza, who has paid my fee in bitcoin, which seems only fitting under the circumstances.”
CT: How come you’re being paid in bitcoin?
CE: After meeting with Mr. Espinoza and his attorneys recently, I agreed to speak on his behalf. Again, I hesitate to comment on precisely why I have chosen to be associated with this case, preferring to let Mr. Palomino address the specifics of the case. Suffice it to say that I have agreed to work for Mr. Espinoza, who has paid my fee in bitcoin, which seems only fitting under the circumstances.
As far as I know, this makes me the first expert witness in a criminal case to be paid with Bitcoin.
Members of the South Florida Bitcoin community in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are rallying behind Mr. Espinoza to help him set up a website to raise funds for his defense and to enable people to get to know him beyond the lurid headlines. Anyone interested in following this story should watch reddit.com/r/bitcoin and the Miami International Bitcoin group on Facebook for announcements and updates.
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