back to article Feds find Silk Road thief's $1b+ Bitcoin stash in popcorn tin, hidden safe

A crook who stole more than 50,000 Bitcoins from the dark web souk Silk Road in 2012 has pleaded guilty and lost the lot, with a stretch behind bars likely ahead of him.  James Zhong, 32, admitted committing wire fraud in September 2012 by creating nine Silk Road accounts he used to trigger "over 140 transactions in rapid …

  1. Winkypop Silver badge
    Trollface

    So

    Is popcorn appropriate?

    Too soon?

    1. Jedit Silver badge
      Joke

      "Is popcorn appropriate?"

      I think he already ate it, unless it was still in the tin with his computer.

  2. mickaroo

    I Don't Get It...

    If I had embezzlement $1B in (enter Ponzi scheme digital token here), I would have converted it to real money (10c on the Ponzi dollar) and be sitting on a beach, in some country that has no extradition to anywhere, suckling down pena coladas.

    1. Blazde Silver badge

      Re: I Don't Get It...

      The smartest thing might've been to pay tax on it, hire a bunch of expensive lawyers to argue it was payment for unspecified (yet entirely legal) services rendered and then wait for Ross Ulbricht to challenge that.

      1. sitta_europea Silver badge

        Re: I Don't Get It...

        "The smartest thing might've been to pay tax on it, hire a bunch of expensive lawyers..."

        Not doing so must be the real reason he's been charged.

        Who cares if somebody steals from a thief who stole from a thief who...?

        It's like assassination and kings - they call it 'natural causes'.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: I Don't Get It...

      But do you really want that life? Yes, you can afford a life of comfort and luxuries in the place you found, but you can't go back to where your friends and family live. You can't go to many countries because they could extradite you. You are limiting yourself to a few countries, and you don't even tend to have the freedom to travel between them because they're spread out. Many such countries tend to be unpleasant (sure, Russia is a place where you can probably hang out without extradition, but your ability to buy all the stuff you wanted wouldn't have worked out too well as sanctions were applied and Russia started limiting transfers across borders).

      1. seven of five

        Re: I Don't Get It...

        With the remainder of three Billion USD at hand, you can probaby still get anything you want, sanctions or not.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I Don't Get It...

          I wonder which, if any, cryptocurrencies could cope with cashing $3B in one go?

          Stealing $3B in crypto requires a certain skill set. Cashing it out safely and hopefully anonymously and moving it somewhere you can then use it, is a very different skill set. And IIRC, it's tanked down to less than half it's value since it was stolen. And you'd not get the full value back in cash anyway if you have to start using middle men to launder it.

          1. seven of five

            Re: I Don't Get It...

            Sure. otoh, even 15M (.5%) is still more than I'll make in my whole life.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: I Don't Get It...

              It's surprising how much you really need to pack in and live a life of relative luxury in foreign climes. Most people severly underestimate how much they need to start how hard they need to keep "working" with their money and investments to keep that standard.

              I remember naively thinking back when I bought my first house that if the mortgage was paid off and I had about £60,000 in the bank, I could live comfortably off the interest alone. Savings account interest was in double digits back then, as were mortgage interest rates. I was earning about £7k PA back then. Not a huge amount, but enough to be comfortable so with no mortgage, a 10% interest on £60k seemed adequate. Obviously I didn't really think it through or understand long term inflation and the decades of very low interest rates ahead :-)

      2. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: I Don't Get It...

        > but you can't go back to where your friends and family live

        That much cash will buy you many, many, new friends. Just ask any billionaire.

        And how many of your family would visit you in jail anyway?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I Don't Get It...

          "That much cash will buy you many, many, new friends. Just ask any billionaire."

          He can have my sword.

          (Yep -- you're right; that does sound just as stupid here as when some moron tweeted it to Elon)

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: I Don't Get It...

          "That much cash will buy you many, many, new friends."

          That's probably true, but I don't think I would want many of the people who would participate to be my friends.

          "And how many of your family would visit you in jail anyway?"

          Well I was thinking that the alternative was to not steal the money or to do a better job of laundering it where you want to live, so I wasn't suggesting a life hiding from extradition is worse than imprisonment. There are a lot of cases where the restricted but luxurious life would be better than the expected alternative, but I imagine the restrictions to be annoying enough that people don't want to jump to it as their first plan.

        3. jake Silver badge

          Re: I Don't Get It...

          That kind of "friend" I have absolutely zero use for.

          My family would probably all visit me in jail ... once each, to tell me to have fun rotting. Which is precisely why I have no intention of ever doing anything that would land me in jail.

      3. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: I Don't Get It...

        but you can't go back to where your friends and family live.

        Bring the mountain to Mohammed, especially with that mountain of cash... I'm sure your friends and family would love an all expenses paid trip to your tropical island!

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

      When he stole the bitcoin in 2012 it wasn't worth $3.6 billion. It was $5 to $10 per bitcoin so more like $250K to $500K if he followed the "immediately liquidate it" strategy you advocate. Or $25K to $50K if you are willing to accept only 10c on the dollar.

      Hardly enough to afford a beachfront hotel at for very long, let alone live there for the rest of your life.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

        Interesting that the FBI took their own sweet time in following the money, to the extent that it had ballooned in value. Had they got him in 2012, it'd have been a fairly small deal, barely in the public interest. But because they waited 8, 9 years it's become a $billions fraud, from which the FBI likely profit. Nice.

        Not quite sure how big a crime has actually been committed! For example, if he's done for a multi $billion crime, and bitcoin then crashes in value, will he get a corresponding reduction in sentence?

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

          They probably didn't give a shit about bitcoin theft in 2012, and didn't have the knowledge/experience with it to be able to track it. That was all developed much later than 2012.

          Its nice to argue some conspiracy where the FBI was just waiting until bitcoin went up 1000x in value to try to recover the loot, but they didn't have any more idea that was going to happen than you or I did.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

            Still begs the question as to whether he's being done for a large or small fraud.

            1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

              Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

              His lawyer will argue to the court it was a small fraud, and bill his client based on it being a large fraud.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

                What's the difference between "small fraud" and "large fraud"? Fraud is fraud, and is prosecuted as such.

                Would you be more upset if you were defrauded of one cent 1,000,000 times, or if I defrauded you of $10,000 once?

                Likewise, should a judge be more lenient if I steal $10,000 from one person, or if I steal one cent from 1,000,000 people?

            2. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: He didn't steal NEARLY enough to retire on

              I'm pretty sure a judge would rule it has to be based on the value at the time of the theft. If I steal a painting from a gallery priced at $5000 and they discover it in my possession and that I was the one who did it 30 years later when that artist is famous and it is worth $5 million, they can't charge me with a $5 million theft.

              It would be a more interesting argument if I stole a painting valued at $5 million that was later discovered to be a forgery worth very little. I might try the argument that I knew it was a fake and I hated seeing that fake hanging in the Met so my theft was really a public service!

    4. slimshady76
      Headmaster

      Re: I Don't Get It...

      * Piña colada please. Pena means "sorrow".

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I Don't Get It...

        Except piña and pina are completely different words and one would never be mistaken for the other.

        Piña means pineapple.

  3. Blazde Silver badge
    Coat

    Con-currency joke

    There's a race condition on the Silk Road and this guy just got overtaken by the Feds

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Con-currency joke

      Boo. Hiss. Upvoted.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Con-currency joke

      That wasn't an overtake, that was a PIT maneuver.

    3. KittenHuffer Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Con-currency joke

      Only if the Silk Road was very straight. Everyone know that Merkin cars don't go round corners very well!

      ----------> Mine's the one with the Ford GT40 keys in the pocket!

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Con-currency joke

        True, Merkin cars can be a bit hairy ...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Con-currency joke

          To be fair, all countries have vehicles that can be a little hairy.

  4. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    WTF?

    No honour among thieves?

    So Silk Road was a hive of scum and villainy and said scum and villains were robbed by riffraff. Why are the Feds investigating this? If I saw an ATM bomber blow his fingers off I wouldn't be particularly sympathetic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No honour among thieves?

      Or you could say that it was safer for people than buying drugs off the streets; there was a review system and therefore an incentive not to sell tooth powder cut with rat poison (for example).

    2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: No honour among thieves?

      The Feds were simply chasing Silk Road money ... The question is, what happens to it? Surely they can't trade it to raise money for the Government as it's doubly-illegal currency? On the other hand, can you actually delete crypto (the digital equivalent of burning it) or is it always omnipresent and just needs the key to own it?

      1. Blazde Silver badge

        Re: No honour among thieves?

        You can delete cryptocurrency, just transfer it to a new address and erase your private key.

        But it's only actually illegal assets like drugs they need to burn. Other proceeds of crime get sold and generally ploughed back into law enforcement operations or victim compensation (in this case presumably via the US's federal Assets Forfeiture Fund), in turn reducing the need for general taxation to fund those things, as well as incentivising agencies to go after high value assets - inevitably sometimes legitimately belonging to innocent people.

        You could say the government has a monopoly on legitimised money laundering..

    3. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: No honour among thieves?

      I won't say that the Fed's are a crime gang, but they get to keep money they can recover from Silk Road. Or from people who have stolen money from Silk Road.

      I don't know how the details will work for this.

    4. WonkoTheSane
      Black Helicopters

      Re: No honour among thieves?

      "Why are the Feds investigating this?"

      Because he got rich without permission from the Illuminati.

    5. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: No honour among thieves?

      As commented above, he failed to pay his tax ?

  5. KittenHuffer Silver badge
    Coat

    "approximately 51,680.32473733 Bitcoins"

    That's not accurate enough for me. Please provide an exact figure for the stolen Bitcoins.

    ---------> Mine's the one with approximately 3.141592 pockets!

    1. MiguelC Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "approximately 51,680.32473733 Bitcoins"

      51,680.32473733333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333 Bitcoins

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: "approximately 51,680.32473733 Bitcoins"

      Don't be silly ... you put pie in your mouth, not your pockets.

  6. StripeyMiata

    I hide my Bitcoin stash on a single board PC as well.

    It's at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: I hide my Bitcoin stash on a single board PC as well.

      I hope you have remembered to disappear both the light and the stairs.

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: I hide my Bitcoin stash on a single board PC as well.

      What exactly is a multi-board PC? None of the office machines have any cards -- or SATA disks -- or a passive backplane -- or ... what?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: I hide my Bitcoin stash on a single board PC as well.

        Usually, they mean that all the interfaces are on the one board. Even if you don't have a graphics card sticking up from your motherboard and you're using only a M.2 disk that's mounted directly, you probably have an external power supply needed to convert voltage for the system and at least some of your ports are external to the board. If I'm being particularly picky, your RAM also probably runs perpendicular to the device and those look like boards too. The SBC label is less "there is no second board" and more "everything is on this one board".

  7. Little J

    I always thought a crime would have to be reported before someone can be charged with it and i somehow doubt the admins at silk road filed a police report or am i missing something here? even if they were trying to discover where some bitcoin went i wouldn't have thought they would have investigated transactions that happened a year before the site shutdown without some kind of prompting, if they charged him with tax evasion then it would all make sense but wire fraud suggest at least it was just for the theft which no one reported.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      wire fraud

      This one always bugs me. If it's not your money (according to them), and you wire it somewhere, they charge you with wire fraud. It's beyond stupid. Like driving a stolen car is road fraud, or eating some stolen fruit is digestive fraud, or ....

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: wire fraud

        You misinterpret the law. Sending stolen money over a wire isn't wire fraud. It is theft. Wire fraud is transmitting messages related to a scheme to defraud someone, whether successful or not, and other crimes may be in play if you successfully get something from them. The wire fraud charges are related to using false pretenses to get a system to send money you aren't entitled to, and they would apply even if the system didn't send it, for example if a manual review caught it.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: wire fraud

        "If it's not your money (according to them), and you wire it somewhere, they charge you with wire fraud."

        No, they charge you with theft (if the owner was not consulted), and/or being an accessory to a crime (if the money was ill-gotten). Several other charges might also apply.

        Driving a stolen car will get you charged with being in possession of stolen material, likewise eating stolen fruit. And again, you may be charged with other crimes (trespassing, crossing state lines in commision of a crime, etc.)

    2. jtaylor

      The money on Silk Road might have been proceeds from crimes. Law enforcement are known to pursue stolen property even after it changes hands.

    3. jake Silver badge

      " always thought a crime would have to be reported before someone can be charged with it"

      Nope. A crime is a crime. If discovered, the Law will deal with it according to statute, reported or not.

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