Virgil Griffith

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Virgil Griffith
Virgil-griffith.jpg
Occupation Research Scientist
Employer Ethereum
Location Singapore
Personal Twitter @virgilgr
LinkedIn Profile
Website Griffith's Personal Page

Virgil Griffith is an American hacker and cryptocurrency enthusiast. A resident of Singapore at the time, Griffith is best known for his arrest by U.S. authorities on Thanksgiving 2019 at Los Angeles airport as he returned to the U.S. He was arrested after giving a talk at a conference in North Korea in which he explained how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to launder money, according to U.S. federal investigators.[1]

Bio

Griffith attended the University of Alabama from 2002 to 2004. He left before finishing his education there after he was sued by Blackboard, Inc. for exploiting security flaws in a computer program used by the University to administer campus ID cards, then attempting to present his findings at a conference in Atlanta, GA. The case ended with both parties settling out of court. Griffith also invented a data-mining tool called a WikiScanner, which showed the user which users made edits to a Wikipedia entry, which he did in order to combat the spread of propaganda on Wikipedia articles. He received a PhD in computational and neural systems from Caltech in 2014. In a 2008 interview with the New York Times, he said that he aspired to "create minor public-relations disasters" for organizations he disliked. He later became a research scientist for the Ethereum Foundation.[2][3] Until his arrest in November 2019, Griffith was an avid poster on social media, though the sincerity of some of his posts was questionable. On his personal Twitter page, he declared that "a high proportion of my tweets will be trolling and sh*tposting."[4] He was 36 years old when he was arrested.[5]

North Korea

Griffith seems to have had a fascination with North Korea, evidenced by several earlier posts he made on social media.[6][7] In 2019, Griffith flew to North Korea by way of China, circumventing U.S. travel restrictions. In April, he allegedly gave a speech at a conference in Pyongyang in which he explained to the audience that it was possible to launder money using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.[8]

Arrest

He was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thanksgiving 2019 and charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).[9][10]

Transferred to a prison in New York, Griffith was originally denied bail by the federal court for the southern district of New York. At a motion hearing to reverse the denial of bail, Judge Broderick told Griffith, "Laws in this country are not suggestions." After hearing evidence indicating that Griffith is likely to comply with the court's restrictions, Broderick ordered that Griffith be released to his parents' custody in Alabama against $1 million in bail.[11]

Griffith, wearing a gray suit, appeared in federal court and pleaded not guilty to the one charge of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act on Thursday on January 30.[12]

Defense

Griffith's attorney, Brian Klein of the Los Angeles, California, law firm Keri Curtis Axel Baker Marquart LLP, filed a motion on October 22, 2020 to dismiss the case asserting that speaking at a general blockchain conference as was conducted in North Korea did not constitute the provision of services, especially because Griffith was not paid by the North Korean hosts. The motion also alleges that the government had not met evidentiary requirements implied by the IEEPA and other relevant laws and regulations. Griffith is also represented by Sean S. Buckley of Kobre & Kim, a law firm that Forbes characterized as "one of the go-to high-stakes international litigation boutiques on the market."[13] Griffith is also represented by Sean S. Buckley of Kobre & Kim, a law firm that Forbes characterized as "one of the go-to high-stakes international litigation boutiques on the market."[14]

In December, Griffith's trial was tentatively scheduled for September 2021.[15]

References