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In Griffith NoKo Crypto Case Inner City Press Got Unsealed Arguments and Trial Sept 2021

By Matthew Russell Lee, Pod Exclusive Patreon
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - The Source

SDNY COURTHOUSE, Dec 22 – Virgil Griffith, charged with violating North Korea sanctions in connection with a crypto-currency conference there, now faces trial in September 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

This emerged at a telephone conference in the case on December 22. Griffith's defense lawyer Brian E. Klein spoke among other things about filings not yet placed in the public docket, only emailed to SDNY Judge P. Kevin Castel. 

   Inner City Press, which has covered the case from Griffith's first appearance in the SDNY Magistrates Court to his Christmas 2019 holiday legal moves to get released to home confinement in Alabama, has previously successfully sought sealed documents in this criminal case, see below. Dec 22 podcast here. It live tweeted the December 22 arguments, here:

Judge Castel: This is a case with a single count, of conspiracy to violate the law, the IEEPA, not the substantive charge. That may have consequences. The president at the time, President Obama, barred export of goods and services to the DPRK [North Korea]

Judge Castel: I'm looking at an email from Matthew McKenzie, it says "the basis for Griffith's presentation was publicly available info does not undermine the conclusion" that it violated the law. He packaged the info for the DPRK audience

Judge Castel: They traveled to a country where sale was blocked. They agree they are going to endeavor to sell the blocked weapons discussed at the Paris Air Show [this is a hypothetical]. Perhaps you could speak to that? Griffith's lawyer: Hypotheticals are hard

Griffith's lawyer: We're talking about publicly available technology, not weapons.  Judge Castel: What if the conference was just a prelude, but there'd be follow through, to transfer info tailored for the DPRK? Griffith's lawyer: That does not fit this case

 Griffith's lawyer: The government here is restricting speech. We're encouraging the court to apply strict scrutiny... We had a whole string cite about intangible goods and services. We think the indictment should be dismissed. AUSA Ravener: We specify the services

 AUSA Ravener: We cite Griffith pitching his company to the conference attendees. He was offering crypto-currency services.

Judge Castel: Did this conspiracy end, having achieved its purposes by the time Mr. Griffith departed North Korea airspace? Or was it longer?

AUSA Ravener: He followed up, that he'd like to find an emissary to make the crypto-currency exchange. At the conference he identified himself as working for the Ethereum Foundation. He said, we can give you contracts that don't go through the US

Judge Castel: He was a senior research for the Ethereum Foundation. That was essentially a marketing position. Did Ethereum Foundation provide services to others? Or just promote the Ethereum blockchain? AUSA Ravener: We would have to conduct further investigation

AUSA Ravener: Ethereum deals in Ether, that's potentially a service. We have evidence that Mr Griffith spoke with individuals at Ethereum about this ideas of providing services to North Korea. He was admonished not to go. But he went anyway.

 Judge Castel: Usually the US has no problem showing the guilty hand, they have problems with showing the guilty mind, mens rea. Here maybe the government can show guilty mind - but you still have to show the guilty hand, the actus reus. AUSA: We'll show at trial

AUSA Ravener: He created a bespoke presentation for the DPRK. It's clear he had done so in coordination with the DPRK. He was the keynote speaker. It's out of the information materials exemption in the OFAC regs

Judge Castel: My understanding of the exemption is that it is not precluded just because the audience didn't know the information. AUSA: He create a pitch how the info could be used to evade sanctions. And he pitched his own financial services processing services.

AUSA Ravener: We believe he tried to acquire domain names like or, to enter this market... Judge Castel: So you say the conspiracy continued to December 2019.

Griffith's lawyer: If he gave this speech at Columbia University and it's allowed under the First Amendment, then it's allowed here. Part of a pitch? That is not in their briefs. With respect to Ethereum Foundation, they want to have it both way. He was on leave

 Griffith's lawyer: Ethereum is not a company. It's a blockchain. Judge Castel: I got it. The Foundation supports the blockchain. But Mr. Griffith received a paycheck or something from the Ethereum Foundation to promote the blockchain

Judge Castel: How does doubt by OFAC about whether it's a violation of law do anything for the defense? Griffith's lawyer Brian Klein: They asked OFAC for a determination to allow the arrest, and for a witness for the trial. So the OFAC doubts come into play. AUSA Wirshba: We'll be turning over 3500 material.

Griffith's lawyer Klein: I'm glad to here that. We want to know what OFAC said. They are also relying on Chevron deference. We need access to these records. They need to review it for Brady material. [See Rule 5f]

 Griffith's lawyer Klein: We'd like to know OFAC's view of DPRK's crypto currency capability. Judge Castel: My library could have that info, but they can't get it in North Korea, and in DPRK they don't have Google searches. Klein: We think some in DPRK have Google

 Griffith's lawyer Klein: We believe North Korea already knew a lot before Mr. Griffith's alleged speech. Judge Castel: You may want to ask to know the identity of all witnesses, like in any drug conspiracy case in this courthouse. The ID of cooperators.

 Griffith's lawyer Klein: We need the identity of the witness. Judge Castel: That's usually not given, at least in drug cases.  Now he cites the Middendorf factors - Inner City Press covered that case, here

 Judge Castel is back to the McKenzie email. AUSA: That was the first contact before our Office and OFAC's counsel office. There were discussions between the FBI and OFAC, in October 2019. Another call in November.

Judge Castel: What about Witness Number 2? AUSA: The government is withholding only limited information.  Griffith's lawyer Klein: Before Judge Broderick, another prosecutor said everyone in the DPRK works for the government.

Griffith's lawyer Klein: A jury should know that people in North Korea have info about crypto currency. We should get the info now, we are entitled to it or to a broad stipulation.

Judge Castel: There's more merit to that. I'm going to address that in my ruling

 Griffith's lawyer Klein: This is the first we're hearing about a call between FBI and OFAC -- Judge Castel: But you got notice of that in writing, Tab G, in your possession. Griffith lawyer Klein: The AUSA spoke about another call, too [He did]

 Judge Castel (with a ruling tone of voice) - The communications between the FBI and OFAC began in October 2019. When the prosecution conducts a joint investigation, courts in this circuit have held they must review the other agency's material for Brady material

 Judge Castel: My colleague Judge Oetken set forth a very useful test in Middendorf. But it does not completely fit here. OFAC interprets its own regulations. So now a Brady review is required, from October 2019 onward

 Judge Castel: With regard to Witness Number 2, the case law is that nothing obligates the government to disclose the identity of its witnesses before trial. I understand that a redacted version of Witness 2's statement has been provided.

Judge Castel: The government says that Mr. Griffith's supporters will try to help him. So I am withholding the identity to protect the witness [!] I'm going to reserve decision on materials about DPRK's crypto capabilities. The parties may wish to stipulate on this

 Judge Castel proposes a trial date: after Labor Day 2021. Klein: I want to discuss that with my client. We intend to ask for loosening of restrictions - he has been without Internet. Judge Castel: Each side should write to me why Sept 7, 2021 trial doesn't work

Griffith's lawyer Klein: We will put in a letter on loosening restrictions.  Judge Castel: It's one thing to have a case with tough issues. But it's a joy to a judge to have lawyers that can answer questions. It has been helpful. Peaceful holidays to Mr. Griffith

On exclusion of time under Speedy Trial Act, Klein said he'd like to speak with Griffith; his other lawyer Mr. Buckley said March makes sure. Judge Castel: I exclude time to Sept 7, this is not a run of the mill case. Adjourned

Update: after publication of the above, this order: "ORDER as to Virgil Griffith. Defendants motion to compel discovery of material in the possession of OFAC is GRANTED to the extent that the government is directed to conduct a review of material in the possession of OFAC for the period from October 24, 2019 to the present that is related to Mr. Griffith's prosecution; the government shall disclose any materials that must be disclosed to the defendant consistent with the governments obligations. Defendant's motion to compel discovery of the identity of the individual identified as Witness 2 is DENIED. The Court defers ruling on defendants motion to compel a search of files of certain government agencies regarding the cryptocurrency and blockchain capabilities of the DPRK. The parties shall meet and confer on a stipulation. The proposed stipulation shall be submitted to the Court no later than January 25, 2021. The parties are directed to submit a letter to the Court by December 30, 2020 setting forth any reason why the Court ought not seek a date for commencement of trial on or after September 7, 2021 and before September 30, 2021. A conference is set for September 7, 2021 at 9:30 am in Courtroom 11D 500 Pearl Street, New York, NY. For reasons stated on the record, time is excluded in the interest of justice under the Speedy Trial Act through September 7, 2021 to allow both sides to discuss a resolution of this matter and review discovery Time excluded from 12/22/20 until 9/7/21. (Signed by Judge P. Kevin Castel on 12/22/20)(jw)  "

 Back on November 10, Inner City Press went in person to the proceeding in Judge Castel's Courtroom 11D. It was alone in the gallery; in the front were the three ASUAs, Mr. Buckley for Griffith, and on the side CISO Hartenstein, who performs the same role in the CIA leaks case US v. Joshua Schulte.

  The government said it won't make its CIPA motion under March 19. Buckley point out that is more than a year after Griffith was arrested, and that Griffith is seeking FBI and other information.

 Judge Castel replied that he will bring the parties in on December 22. He said the public portion of the CIPA Section 2 conference was over; he told Mr Buckley he did not have to wait around (and Inner City Press, by implication, either). But what are the rights of the press and public with respect to these CIPA sealings?

  Earlier in the case: Judge Castel to his credit the same day asked each side's counsel to respond: "The Court has received an application from Inner City Press for the unsealing of certain applications by the defendant for the issuance of subpoenas. The parties shall respond to the application by May 22, 2020. If there is no objection, the Court will order the applications and any resulting order unsealed."

 On May 29, Judge Castel ruled: "Defendant is directed to file forthwith on ECF his ex parte and in camera applications for subpoenas pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17. (Signed by Judge P. Kevin Castel on 5/29/2020) (ap)."

  And now they have been filed: a March 17 letter and affirmation, and the subpoena itself, for "A list of any and all IP addresses associated with the email address, and any logs or similar records of access to the email address, for the period from November 1, 2018 to October 30, 2019."

  Inner City Press has uploaded the application, affirmation and subpoena on Patreon here.

   An aside: the application of diplomatic immunity and/or the Vienna convention to this subpoena, and Verizon's response to it, remain UNclear.

 On June 1, Griffith's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss for lack of venue, stating that Griffith's email to the North Korea Mission in New York, responded to, might not have been "received" in New York. Inner City Press is tweeting the photo here. Watch this site.

    On May 28, from Judge Castel again to his credit, this: "ORDER as to Virgil Griffith. The government advises that the defendant consents to public disclosure of his ex parte and in camera application for a subpoena pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17 (the Application) but does not consent to advance disclosure of the Application to the government. To enable the government to intelligently state its position on public disclosure, defendant shall transmit the Application to the government by 1 p.m. today, May 28, 2020. The government shall state whether it has any objection to public disclosure by 1 p.m. on May 29, 2020. The Court will thereafter rule on whether the Application should be publicly filed (Signed by Judge P. Kevin Castel on 5/28/20)(jw)." Watch this site.

The case is US v. Griffith, 20-cr-15 (Castel). 


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