Former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has been sentenced to 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for supporting North Koreans in using bitcoin to avoid sanctions.
Griffith pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiring to violate UN sanctions on North Korea. Griffith was arrested in November 2019 after a talk he delivered in Pyongyang in April at a Bitcoin conference.
Despite the possibility of a 20-year sentence, Griffith’s plea deal with federal prosecutors lowered the sentence to a range of 63 to 78 months — about five to 6.5 years. Griffith had already served almost two years in prison, albeit 14 of those months were on bail. The remaining ten months will be credited to the court as time served.
On Tuesday, United States District Judge Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York imposed a sentence that was in the lower range of the prosecution’s mandated sentencing guidelines and consistent with the recommendation of the Department of Probation.
The defense is appealing to the court for compassion.
Griffith and his lawyers were given the chance to make any last objections or remarks to the court before his sentencing.
Griffith, dressed in a khaki prison uniform, exchanged glances with his elderly parents and other friends in the courtroom.
Griffith’s chief attorney, Brian Klein, asked Judge Castel to examine circumstances that he alleged were omitted from the prosecution’s sentencing guidelines, such as the harsh conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, where Griffith is being held.
Griffith was exposed to “many very horrific conditions” at MDC, according to Klein, including prolonged solitary confinement due to COVID-19 breakouts, limited family visits, restricted access to blankets and warm clothing, and even being forced to use his sink as a toilet.
Griffith has been constrained to two or fewer meals each day, mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, according to Klein, since gangs control the chefs and commissaries in MDC.
Klein asked the court to consider counting Griffith’s ten months in prison as double time and to transfer his client to Allenwood Low, a low-security federal prison in Pennsylvania where he might be closer to extended family members.
Klein also informed Judge Castel about a recent psychological test completed on Griffith while he was incarcerated, which found he was suffering from two personality disorders: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) (OCPD). According to his defense, the ailments explained his “obsession” with North Korea and his disregard for warnings not to enter the country from family, friends, work, and the government.
Griffith, according to Klein, has been “committed to therapy” and was assessed by the psychiatrist to be “treatable” and “unlikely to re-offend.”
When Griffith was allowed to speak, he explained to the court that he had spent his time in prison contemplating how he “genuinely, arrogantly, and erroneously believed I knew better” than his family members who had counseled him against traveling to North Korea.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” Griffith said. “I’m still quite mortified to be here and to have committed this act.”
Perhaps the most damning photograph the court saw was Griffith making a presentation at the conference, dressed in traditional North Korean garb and smiling in front of a whiteboard that said “No sanctions!”
“Virgil Griffith…hoped to return to Singapore or another location as a crypto hero,” Castel said. “To be commended and commended for his fortitude and dignity in the face of government sanction.”
Griffith’s prior and subsequent assistance with the government – cited by the defense as evidence of his good nature – was condemned by Castel as narcissism.