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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Was it theft or a golden opportunity?

That’s the question Arapahoe County jurors will be asked next week when it comes to deciding the fate of Mark Shin, charged with stealing nearly $9 million worth of cryptocurrency.

The 31-year Aurora man is charged with theft, cybercrime theft and money laundering for what prosecutors say he did from his home computer on Aug. 22, 2020.

According to a grand jury indictment obtained by the Problem Solvers, Shin discovered “an unintended vulnerability in the Revision 9 update” of the ICON Nation cryptocurrency, a rival to the better-known Bitcoin.

Instead of alerting the ICON Foundation/Nation, the indictment said “Shin changed the vote/select delegate function 558 times over an eleven-hour period to mint unauthorized ICX. From his personal computer, Shin minted and stole from the ICON Nation approximately 13,924,045 unauthorized ICX, which was roughly the equivalent of approximately $8,988,406.00 U.S. dollars at the time of the attack.”

If you mint new cryptocurrency, is that theft?

“I love this case. I think it’s fascinating,” defense attorney and FOX31 legal analyst Chris Decker said.

Decker said Shin will want the jury to see what he did not as theft but as an opportunity anyone would take advantage of.

“Mr. Shin utilized the code that was written by this cryptocurrency to create his own mint or mint his own currency. So he wasn’t taking property of another. He was creating new currency,” Decker said.

“I’ve only been doing this (legal work) 28 years. I’ve never seen a case quite like this,” said George Brauchler, FOX31 legal analyst and former 18th Judicial District attorney.

Brauchler told the Problem Solvers he doesn’t think the defense of, “I was just minting new currency,” is going to work.

“I don’t think it will because he acts guilty. I mean, this guy doesn’t act like what he’s doing is above board. He creates a bunch of different accounts. He tries to take the cryptocurrency that he has ‘minted’ and sends it around to other crypto wallets in order to try to disguise who’s the owner and how much he has,” he said.

$7 billion in crypto laundered through Tornado Cash

Arapahoe County prosecutors allege Shin used a cryptocurrency spinning service called Tornado Cash to shift the ICON money into other crypto wallets to disguise where his funds originated.

In August, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned virtual currency mixer Tornado Cash to stop its use by American citizens. The Treasury Department claimed Tornado Cash had been used to launder more than $7 billion worth of virtual currency since its creation in 2019.

A young man in glasses, a mask over his mouth and a suit walks in a hallway with two people following behind him
Mark Shin at Arapahoe County District Court (KDVR)

Decker said Shin’s defense team will likely argue “the fact that I (Shin) moved the money immediately after that is of no consequence to the fact that I minted it and I didn’t steal it.”

But when asked if Shin using Tornado Cash immediately after minting 14 million ICON coins might look like money laundering to a jury, Decker responded, “Of course. And that’s what the prosecution is going to argue, shows that he knew that what he was doing was wrong and illegal.”

Cryptocurrency still far from the public’s grasp

No matter what the jury decides about Shin’s guilt or innocence, both Decker and Brauchler suspect the case could have ramifications outside the courtroom with many in the greater public still unsure about the safety of using cryptocurrency.

“I think that this particular act undermines a general concern that people don’t quite understand how these programs work. They don’t quite understand how and under what circumstances people can mint new cryptocurrency,” Decker said.

Brauchler added, “It (cryptocurrency) makes me hanky. Now, listen, I’m 110 years old, but the idea of having all the money that I have, caught up in something I can’t truly define, that fluctuates based on things I can’t truly control — and then this comes along. I kind of like the smell of money.”

The criminal trial against Shin begins Tuesday, May 23, and is expected to reach the jury on Friday, May 26. If convicted, he could face eight to 24 years each on the two felony theft counts and four to 12 years for the felony count of money laundering.