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The DOJ Is Liquidating its Seized Silk Road Bitcoin Stash

On-chain analysts noticed at the beginning of the month that the U.S. government was moving funds it had seized from Silk Road exploiter James Zhong. It turns out that the DOJ was maneuvering to sell some of the stash.

The U.S. government is selling some of its bitcoin holdings.

A new filing from the United States Department of Justice indicates that some of the bitcoin seized by authorities from Silk Road exploiter James Zhong has already been sold.

According to the document, the government held at one point a total of 51,351 BTC (worth approximately $1.4 billion at today’s prices) in connection to Silk Road—the majority of which came from Zhong. Of these holdings, 9,861 BTC were sold on March 14, netting the DOJ over $215.5 million. The filing states that the government paid roughly $215,738 in fees for the transaction. It plans to sell the remaining 41,490 BTC ($1.1 billion) in four more installments over the course of the calendar year—though it will wait until Zhong’s sentencing to liquidate the second batch. 

Zhong is accused of defrauding darknet marketplace Silk Road by exploiting the platform’s withdrawal mechanism in September 2012. U.S. authorities managed to seize Zhong’s stash of 50,676 BTC in November 2021. Zhong pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in November 2022. Though he faces up to 20 years in jail, he recently asked the court to spare him prison time, on account of his difficult childhood, autism, and the fact that his crime was victimless. He is scheduled for sentencing on April 14.

It’s highly likely that the government used Coinbase to sell its 9,861 BTC. On-chain analysts noticed at the beginning of March that wallets associated with seized Silk Road funds had moved approximately 49,000 BTC to various fresh addresses. One of these addresses was identified as belonging to crypto exchange Coinbase; it received 9,825 BTC on March 7. 

The DOJ’s use of Coinbase is atypical, as the government has historically preferred liquidating seized digital assets through public auctions. 

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned BTC, ETH, and several other crypto assets.