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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, November 5, 2020

United States Files A Civil Action To Forfeit Cryptocurrency Valued At Over One Billion U.S. Dollars

Seizure Of Bitcoins Represents The Largest Cryptocurrency Seizure To Date

SAN FRANCISCO - The United States filed a civil complaint today to forfeit thousands of Bitcoins, valued at over $1 billion dollars, seized by law enforcement on November 3, 2020, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson of the Northern District of California and Special Agent in Charge of the Washington DC Field Office, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Kelly R. Jackson. The seizure represents the largest seizure of cryptocurrency in the history of the Department of Justice.

“Silk Road was the most notorious online criminal marketplace of its day,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson.  “The successful prosecution of Silk Road’s founder in 2015 left open a billion-dollar question.  Where did the money go?  Today’s forfeiture complaint answers this open question at least in part.  $1 billion of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States’ possession.”         

“Criminal proceeds should not remain in the hands of the thieves.  Through CI’s expertise in following the money, we were able to track down the illicit funds,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson.  “The Washington DC Cyber Crimes Unit is uniquely specialized in tracing virtual currency transactions and we will continue to hone our skills to combat illegal activity.”

According to the allegations of the civil forfeiture complaint, from 2011 until October 2013 when it was seized by law enforcement, Silk Road was the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet.  It served a sprawling black market bazaar where unlawful goods and services were bought and sold regularly by the site’s users. The complaint alleges that while in operation, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs as well as other unlawful goods and services to well over 100,000 buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars derived from these unlawful transactions.  At the time it was taken down in 2013, Silk Road had nearly 13,000 listings for controlled substances and many more listings offering illegal services, such as computer hacking and murder for hire, which generated sales revenue totaling over 9.5 million Bitcoins and commissions from these sales totaling over 600,000 Bitcoins.  The complaint further alleges that Silk Road used a so-called “tumbler” to process Bitcoin transactions in a manner designed to frustrate the tracking of individual transactions through the cryptocurrency Blockchain. 

The Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht, following his arrest in San Francisco, was convicted in 2015 by a New York federal jury of seven criminal counts, including conspiracy to distribute narcotics and money laundering. 

The complaint further alleges that in 2020 agents of the IRS CI used a third party bitcoin attribution company to analyze bitcoin transactions executed by Silk Road and were able to identify 54 previously undetected bitcoin transactions executed by Silk Road, all of which appear to represent bitcoin, which was the proceeds of unlawful activity, that was stolen from Silk Road in or about 2012 and 2013.

The complaint alleges that these funds were traced to a bitcoin address.  Further investigation of that bitcoin address by the United States Attorney’s Office and IRS CI agents revealed that the funds were connected to Individual X.  It was further determined that Individual X had hacked the funds from Silk Road.  Pursuant to that investigation of the hack, law enforcement seized several thousand Bitcoins on November 3, 2020.  On November 4, 2020, the seized Bitcoin had a value of over $1 billion.   

The civil complaint merely alleges that certain property is subject to forfeiture.  The United States must prove, by a standard of preponderance of the evidence, that the items are subject to forfeiture.  If the United States prevails, the court will order all interests of any potential claimant forfeited.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Claudia Quiroz, William Frentzen, David Countryman, and Chris Kaltsas of the Northern District of California are prosecuting the forfeiture with the assistance of Carolyn Jusay.  The forfeiture action is the result of an investigation by IRS – Criminal Investigation Cyber Crimes Unit with assistance from Chainalysis and Excygent.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Updated November 5, 2020