New York Woman Convicted of Using Crypto to Fund Terror Groups in Syria

A Manhattan jury on Thursday found an Upper East Side woman guilty of funding terrorism after she used cryptocurrency to send financial support to several groups operating in Syria.

The woman, Victoria Jacobs, 44, was accused by the Manhattan district attorney’s office last year of having provided more than $5,000 to Malhama Tactical, a military contractor that has been called “the Blackwater of jihad.” The group fought alongside Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.

The conviction comes amid a debate between champions of cryptocurrency, who see the technology as an alternative to regulated finance, and skeptics who have pointed out its frequent use in fraud and other crimes. Federal judges are considering lawsuits by the nation’s top securities regulator against some of the cryptocurrency industry’s largest firms, which could curtail the technology’s use in this country.

Ms. Jacobs’s trial opened on Jan. 16 and lasted about two weeks. The jury found her guilty of three felony counts of providing support for an act of terrorism, as well as conspiracy, money laundering and criminal possession of a weapon. She faces up to 25 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 3.

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has said that the case is the first time that terrorism funding has been prosecuted in New York State Supreme Court. The conviction is a notable win for Mr. Bragg, a month before he is scheduled to begin the biggest trial of his career, that of former President Donald J. Trump.

“We will not allow Manhattan to serve as a base for terrorism at home or overseas,” Mr. Bragg said in a statement, praising his prosecutors for winning the first-of-its-kind case.

Lawyers for Ms. Jacobs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Ms. Jacobs laundered more than $10,600 for Malhama Tactical, receiving money from supporters across the world and sending it to Bitcoin wallets controlled by the group. Prosecutors said she identified herself in online forums in 2021 as being “behind enemy lines.”

On the day before the verdict came, Ms. Jacobs was an enigmatic presence in the courtroom, appearing to aggravate the judge, Althea Drysdale. When Ms. Jacobs declined to answer questions directly — including providing a yes-or-no answer to whether she wanted to testify on her own behalf — Justice Drysdale pounded the bench in frustration.

“Ms. Jacobs, I am not going down this road with you,” the judge said.

Soon after, Ms. Jacobs said that she would not testify.

Closing arguments followed, with the chief of the district attorney’s counterterrorism unit, David Stuart, saying that Ms. Jacobs had acted as a “double agent.” He noted that she had bought throwing stars, combat knives and other weaponry, and said that she had asked for guidance from abroad while she carried out the jihadist mission on her own.

“From right here in New York City, the defendant used H.T.S. and Malhama Tactical to carry out her dreams of jihad and shared their terroristic intent,” Mr. Stuart said, referring to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. “And they in turn used the defendant to gain access to the financial markets of New York that allowed them to carry out their acts of terrorism in Syria.”

A lawyer for Ms. Jacobs, Michael Fineman, pleaded with the jury to acquit, arguing that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter — it’s all a matter of perspective.” He noted that, in 1776, the British likely considered George Washington a terrorist.

He also asserted that the groups that Ms. Jacobs was said to have sent money to were not known to the jury, unlike ISIS or Al Qaeda.

But those arguments appear not to have landed with a jury, which was seated only about a mile away from the site of the attacks of Sept. 11. The lobby of the courthouse itself features a wall-length mural imploring visitors to remember that date. Once the members of the jury were dismissed to deliberate on Thursday, it took them only a little more than three hours to bring back a conviction on all counts.