The US Department of Justice announced Monday that law enforcement seized $3.36 billion worth of bitcoins from a man who had “illegally obtained“more than 50,000 bitcoins on the Silk Road dark web market over a decade ago.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York says James Zhong, of Gainesville, Georgia, pleaded guilty Nov. 4 to wire fraud in September 2012. That charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The request came nearly a year after law enforcement seized 50,676,17851897 bitcoins, then valued at more than $3.36 billion, from James Zhong’s home, the statement said. Authorities found the bitcoins in an underground safe and on a single desktop computer hidden under blankets in a popcorn box located in a bathroom cabinet.
Law enforcement also recovered $661,900 in cash, 25 Casascius coins of bitcoin (worth approximately 174 bitcoins), another 11,116 bitcoins and a handful of silver and gold bars.
The whereabouts of this huge amount of bitcoins had been a mystery for nearly 10 years, US Attorney Damian Williams said in the statement.
It was the largest cryptocurrency seizure in the history of the US Department of Justice at the time, and remains the department’s second-largest financial seizure today, the statement said.
Silk Road was an online black market launched in 2011 by “Fear the pirate Roberts” then anonymous (later discovered as Ross Ulbricht). He was notorious for his money laundering activities and for buying and selling illegal drugs with bitcoins. Within two years, Silk Road was shut down by the US government, and in 2015, Ulbricht was unanimously found guilty by a jury and sentenced to life in prison.
“This case shows that we don’t stop following the money, no matter how cleverly it is hidden, even to a printed circuit board at the bottom of a popcorn box.said Mr. Williams.