US Code 18 -486 deals with coinage. Bitcoins don't have physical coins and thus don't meet the requirements of US Code 18-486. IIRC the word "current money" has a legal definition to mean legal tender. As in coinage accepted as legal tender. Granted I have no cites for this (yet) so feel free to disregard that portion. Still even without the distinction of "current money" 18-486 only applies to physical coinage and thus doesn't apply to bitcoin.
He was also prosecuted under US Code 18-485.
Whoever falsely makes, forges, or counterfeits any coin or bar in resemblance or similitude of any coin of a denomination higher than 5 cents or any gold or silver bar coined or stamped at any mint or assay office of the United States, or in resemblance or similitude of any foreign gold or silver coin current in the United States or in actual use and circulation as money within the United States; or http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/485.html
Whoever passes, utters, publishes, sells, possesses, or brings into the United States any false, forged, or counterfeit coin or bar, knowing the same to be false, forged, or counterfeit, with intent to defraud any body politic or corporate, or any person, or attempts the commission of any offense described in this paragraph—
Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than fifteen years, or both.
Essentially counterfeitting US coins. A counterfeit doesn't have to be an exact replica. If the intent of your coin is to be similar to US coinage that is may be mistaken for US coinage you have violated 18-485.
He was also prosecuted under US Code 18-514
514. Fictitious obligationshttp://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/514.html
How Current is This? (a) Whoever, with the intent to defraud—
(1) draws, prints, processes, produces, publishes, or otherwise makes, or attempts or causes the same, within the United States;
(2) passes, utters, presents, offers, brokers, issues, sells, or attempts or causes the same, or with like intent possesses, within the United States; or
(3) utilizes interstate or foreign commerce, including the use of the mails or wire, radio, or other electronic communication, to transmit, transport, ship, move, transfer, or attempts or causes the same, to, from, or through the United States,
any false or fictitious instrument, document, or other item appearing, representing, purporting, or contriving through scheme or artifice, to be an actual security or other financial instrument issued under the authority of the United States, a foreign government, a State or other political subdivision of the United States, or an organization, shall be guilty of a class B felony.
(b) For purposes of this section, any term used in this section that is defined in section 513 (c) has the same meaning given such term in section 513 (c).
(c) The United States Secret Service, in addition to any other agency having such authority, shall have authority to investigate offenses under this section
You can't create any insturment or document (currency or not) that implies a connection to US government if none exists. That includes common US government symbosl, phrases, icons, and imagery. That doesn't apply to Bitcoin either. To remain outside this statute it is important to not imply any sort of connection to US government (or any government because they may also have similar laws). Being a open source group we have no control over other members but we can use peer influence to police the actions of others.
It is very important (at least in the US) to never use the phrase "legal tender" in connection with Bitcoin. Bitcoin has no status as "legal tender". Even states are prohibited from issuing legal tender. Gold & Silver are not considered legal tender in the US (unless minted by US govt and then only for the face value - often $20 on a one ounce coin ~$1600 worth of gold). Bitcoin can NOT be used to satisfy any debt or obligation under US law. If you did have a debt you wanted to pay off with Bitcoins it would need to be structured as a two part transaction.
1) You sell me 100 BTC for $320.
2) You use that $320 to pay a debt you owe me of $320.
No actual money needs to change hands however it should be clearly recorded that you aren't paying a debt in bitcoins. You are selling me bitcoins and I am applying those USD I owe you against an existing debt in US you owe me. This can even be agreed upon in advance via contract or terms of service to allow regular payments but any contract/language/terminology should indicate that an exchange from BTC to USD is occurring and then only USD are being applied towards the debt.
It may be a trivial distinction but there are many legal private currencies in existence in the US. A private currency isn't illegal. Making coins which resemble US coins is illegal, counterfitting is illegal, committing fraud is illegal, attempting to overthrow portions of the federal government is illegal, passing coinage off as "legal tender" is illegal. None of the legal private currencies in the link below attempt to any of those things.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_community_currencies_in_the_United_StatesTo my knowledge Bitcoin doesn't violate any current US statutes.
Of course proving a negative is impossible. The law never defines legal it only defines illegal. If you believe Bitcoin is illegal then please provide the statute it violates. Everything in this post (and any other posts by author) should be considered the opinion of the author and does not constitute legal advice. If you are concerned with the legality of Bitcoins under US law you should consult with a licensed attorney.