A recently unsealed indictment charged an Ohio man of creating and operating two well-known onion services: Grams and Helix. According to the indictment, Helix laundered more than $300 million in Bitcoin.
Larry Dean Harmon, 36, allegedly operated Grams, the first darkweb search engine, from between April 2014 and December 2017. Two months after launching Grams, according to the indictment, Harmon launched a Bitcoin mixing service for Grams users called Helix. At least 354,468 Bitcoins ($311 million at the time of the transactions) passed through Helix between June 2014 and December 2017, prosecutors claimed.
The indictment accused Harmon of three crimes. All three are related to the Helix operation. Listed below.
- Conspiracy to launder money instruments;
- Operating an unlicensed money transmitting business;
- Money transmission without a license.
Harmon allegedly marketed Helix as a way to conceal Bitcoin transactions from law enforcement. For example, in August 2014, the Grams operator wrote that “Helix uses new addresses for each transaction so there is no way LE would able to tell which addresses are helix addresses.” In 2015 the Grams admin posted a similar comment.
“No one has ever been arrested just through bitcoin taint, but it is possible and do you want to be the first? . . . Most markets use ‘Hot Wallets’, they put all their fees in these wallets. LE just needs to check the taints on these wallets to find all the addresses a market uses.”
In November 2016, Alphabay partnered with Helix. The specifics of that partnership have not been publicly disclosed at this time. The prosecutors claimed that Alphabay recommended to its customers that they use Helix to “erase any trace of coins coming from AlphaBay.” Alphabay also provided users with a link to the Helix onion service.
The majority of the funds sent to Helix came from wallets associated with AlphaBay, Agora Market, Nucleus, and Dream Market, according to the indictment. The Grams administrator charged a 3% fee on all transactions at launch. In November 2016, an undercover FBI agent sent Bitcoin from an Alphabay wallet to Helix. Helix worked as expected; the FBI agent received mixed funds at the destination address, less a 2.5% fee.
IRS-CI and FBI agents arrested Harmon on February 6, 2020. They raided several of Harmon’s properties in Ohio and seized a property in Belize. According to Cleveland.com, law enforcement uncovered additional evidence during the raids. This information does not appear to be in any public court documents, though.
Harmon had a detention hearing before a Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of Ohio on February 11, prompting the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to file an emergency motion to unseal the indictment. Prosecuting attorneys believed Harmon posed a serious flight risk. Harmon allegedly has at least $57 million in USD and cryptocurrency and “possibly other holdings the government hasn’t yet identified,” according to the Cleveland.com article. That figure appears to be absent from PACER filings as well.
If the Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of Ohio does not grant the government’s request for detention, the government plans to immediately file an emergency motion for this Court to review the Magistrate Judge’s release order.
In order to file the motion, the government needed to unseal the indictment.
The government is seeking a forfeiture of all $57 million as well as a number of properties owned by Harmon.
Helix Press Release
The administrator of Grams published a press release on Reddit and DeepDotWeb the day of the Helix launch. Reddit banned the Grams subreddit during the /r/darknetmarkets purge and federal law enforcement seized DeepDotWeb in May 2019. An archived copy still exists here and is available below:
Helix is the definitive darknet bitcoin cleaner. Grams’ helix doesn’t just clean your bitcoins it gives you brand new ones which have never been to the darknet before. The helix system is more than a bitcoin tumbler, it is privacy and security wrapped in one.
How is it different?
The Helix process uses a new proprietary technology which has never been used before with bitcoin tumbling. The coins are not just mixed but traded out for new ones before mixing. I can’t go into specifics for security reasons, but I can assure you the helix system will sever the blockchain taint and by giving you new coins which have not been through grams or the darknet. I have been using this systems for all the bitcoins that have come in to grams since the beginning. After seeing shared coin go down I figured I should make it public.
Grams has been using this system for a while on the back-end. Every bitcoin loaded in a Grams account starts the process as soon as it arrives. This we we build up a reserve of clean bitcoins which are ready on demand for smaller orders. The helix process has a maximum process time of 4 hours. So even without reserves you will start receiving your bitcoins in a timely manner.
How to use?
Helix is easy to use since it is integrated in to your normal Grams’ account. Load bitcoins in to your account as you normally do. You will find a Helix withdraw form on your account bitcoin page. Once you put in the amount you wish to withdraw and the address to send to the system with start the process and use the coins already in your Grams’ account.
-Fee is 3%
-Minimum withdrawal is .02 BTC
-Maximum withdrawal is 1 BTC (for now)
-Time 3-4 hours
There is a .01 btc entry fee to create a Grams’ account (which is applied towards your balance). So if you don’t have a Gram’s account and are creating one to use helix. You can load your account after your entry fee clears 3 confirmations, or when sending the entry-fee send more than .02 btc and it will all be applied to your Grams’ balance.
You can set a delay (and it is recommended).
Once the delay is over the helix process will take less than 4 hours.
If there is enough reserve built up you will be paid from the already cleaned coins and the process will be much faster.
Helix has it’s own server not connected to Grams. The several bitcoin clients it uses are on a completely separate server from Helix and Grams. Even if Grams was under attack or compromised it would not affect the Helix system.
All logs are deleted after 7 days, but you can deleted the logs off the server manually after the helix withdraw is complete. Once all transactions have been sent for a helix withdraw you will receive an encrypted message on Grams with the transactions hashes as a receipt of payment. The message will auto-delete after it has been read. The bitcoin clients are also switched out regularly.
Grams is built upon trust and brings that trust to Helix.
Every night half of all the profits made for that day will be deposited into a btc address which is a paper address, I have the only copy of the private key and it has never seen the internet. Grams will keep depositing in to it until it reaches an amount equal to or greater than the average daily volume of Helix. This is to insure your money. In the highly unlikely case the severs got hacked or compromised Grams could use this reserve to pay back anyone who had their money stolen or lost. After a week or so of build up I will post the public address so all users to verify that money is getting deposited every night (and no withdraws are made).