Former Ethereum Developer Virgil Griffith Is Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Visiting North Korea

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Former Ethereum Developer Virgil Griffith Is Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Visiting North Korea

Former Ethereum Developer Virgil Griffith Is Sentenced to More Than Five Years in Prison for Visiting North Korea
Source: CoinDesk
1649846216 13 Apr / 10:36

Griffith previously pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to breach international sanctions in connection with his 2019 presentation at a cryptography conference in Pyongyang.

Former Ethereum engineer Virgil Griffith will serve 63 months in jail and pay a fine of $100,000 for assisting North Koreans in evading sanctions using cryptocurrency.

Griffith pled guilty in September to one count of conspiring to breach UN sanctions on North Korea. Griffith was detained in November 2019 following his April 2019 presentation at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang.

The felony had a potential term of 20 years, but Griffith’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors reduced the sentence to 63 to 78 months or around five to six and a half years. Griffith has already spent close to two years in jail, although he was freed on bail for 14 of those months. The remaining ten months will be considered time served.

Tuesday’s sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York is in the lower range of the prosecution’s prescribed sentencing guidelines. It is consistent with the Department of Probation’s advised punishment.

Before Griffith was sentenced, he and his counsel had the opportunity to make any final objections or statements. In the courtroom, Griffith exchanged eyes with his elderly parents and other acquaintances while wearing a khaki jail uniform.

Griffith’s primary counsel, Brian Klein, requested Judge Castel to examine elements that he claimed were not accounted for in the prosecution’s sentence guidelines, such as the severe conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, where Griffith has been detained.

Klein cited “many tough and brutal situations” that Griffith endured at MDC, including lengthy solitary quarantines due to COVID-19 outbreaks, no family visits, restricted access to blankets and warm clothes, and being forced to use his sink as a toilet. Klein said that Griffith had been restricted to two or fewer meals every day, typically peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, since gangs in MDC control the kitchens and commissaries. Klein urged the judge to consider treating the ten months Griffith has served in jail as double time. He requested that Griffith be transferred to

Allenwood Low, a low-security federal prison in Pennsylvania, where he would be closer to his family. Klein also told Judge Castel about a recent psychological evaluation of Griffith conducted in jail, which reportedly revealed he suffers from two personality disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) (OCPD). His defense said that his problems explained his “obsession” with North Korea and his disrespect for his family, friends, employment, and the government’s warnings not to visit North Korea.
Griffith, according to Klein, is “committed to therapy,” and the psychiatrist deemed him “treatable” and “unlikely to re-offend.”

When Griffith was given a chance to speak, he told the court that he had spent time in jail contemplating how he had “sincerely, arrogantly, and incorrectly believed I knew more” than his loved ones who had advised him against traveling to North Korea.

Griffith stated, “I have learned my lesson.” “I am still humiliated to be here and of what I have done.”

The court did not appear to be swayed by Griffith’s assertions that he had learned his lesson or by his assurances that he would not re-offend. Castel told the courtroom that there is an argument that Virgil Griffith is a kind and thoughtful man, describing a version of events in which Griffith traveled to North Korea “at a great personal sacrifice to himself” to share educational materials about blockchain technology and then returned to persecution.

“However, this is not the case,” Castel stated. This is not what occurred. Castel stated, “What you see here is the purpose and a willingness to teach others how to circumvent sanctions.”
The judge read a sequence of text conversations and emails from Griffith in which the defendant admits to sending information to North Korea to aid the totalitarian Kim dictatorship in evading sanctions.

Perhaps what the judge found most damaging was a photograph of Griffith delivering a presentation at the conference while donning a classic North Korean outfit and standing in front of a chalkboard with the words “No sanctions!” written with a happy face.
“The truth is that Virgil Griffith planned to return to Singapore or abroad as a crypto hero,” Castel said. “To be revered and applauded for his courage and valor in the face of government penalties.”

Castel criticized Griffith’s collaboration with the government before and after his trip to Pyongyang, which the defense had presented as proof of his excellent character as narcissistic.
Castel said, “This individual is prepared to play both sides of the street so long as he is the focus of attention.”

Both the court and the prosecution used the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the U.S. government’s use of sanctions against Russia to support the necessity for a heavy sentence to prevent future violations of U.S. sanctions laws by Griffith and “others similarly situated.”

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