Geek Group leaders charged with illegal Bitcoin trade, money laundering

Grand Rapids
The National Science Institute 122118_1545421568979.jpg.jpg

A December 2018 image shows authorities outside the then-National Science Institute as they execute a federal search warrant.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The president and a board member of the now-closed Geek Group, as well as a consultant, have been indicted in a federal money laundering case for allegedly illegally buying and selling Bitcoin.

Documents filed in federal court Feb. 24 list 28 criminal counts against three people: Chris Boden, who founded The Geek Group; Leesa Vogt, who was a board member; and consultant Daniel DeJager.

The Geek Group, at the time called The National Science Institute, on Leonard Street NW near Alpine Avenue was raided by the IRS and Homeland Security Investigations in December 2018, though the agencies would not say why. The next month, Boden said in a YouTube video that agents had seized computers and hard drives as they investigated him for illegally trading the cryptocurrency.

At the core of the charges, the documents show, is that Boden, Vogt and DeJager marketed The Geek Group to customers as a middleman to buy and sell Bitcoin even the organization was not a licensed money transmitting business. Federal prosecutors allege they sold $700,000 in the cryptocurrency between March 2017 and December 2018.

Some of the group’s customers’ money, investigators allege, came from the sale of controlled substances. Moving money to hide that it came from illegal activity — in this case, both operating as an unlicensed trader and the drug sales — is money laundering.

The three are also accused of structuring, which is intentionally moving money in and out of accounts in small enough amounts that banks won’t have to file certain federal reports and authorities therefore won’t look into where the money came from.

The court documents also claim Boden tried to hire an undercover police officer to extort a client to collect a debt.

“I did a stupid thing, I made a bad decision, so I’m going to pay for it,” Boden said in the January 2019 YouTube video.

Founded in 1994, The Geek Group provided workspaces for people and offered services like low-cost computers to families and acted as an incubator for local innovation. After the raid, its building was sold to developers who now intend to put up an apartment building.

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