The U.S. government has a big stockpile of bitcoin stored in a secure wallet somewhere. This bitcoin has been garnered through closing down criminal operations and seizing the assets they had in their possession. All this money eventually gets sold off through private auctions.
What Does the Government Do With All the Stolen Bitcoin It’s Recovered?
One such auction occurred in the year 2018. Riot Blockchain purchased roughly 500 bitcoin units for approximately $5 million. By today’s terms, that money would be worth around $23 million, while another one occurred in 2014. Roughly $19 million in BTC was sold to venture capitalist Tim Draper after that money was lifted from Ross Ulbricht, the man behind the Silk Road dark web marketplace. That money would now be worth $1.3 billion.
Jarod Koopman – director of the Internal Revenue Service’s cybercrime unit – says BTC is often sold in the same way as many of the other items his organization is known to seize from illicit actors. He says:
It could be ten boats, 12 cars, and then one of the lots is X number of bitcoin being auctioned.
The next big bitcoin auction set to take place will be approximately $56 million-worth of BTC that was garnered from the Bit Connect Ponzi scheme. The rate of auctions is occurring so fast that the government is now enlisting the assistance of third parties to not only set the auctions up, but help it seize additional units.
Jud Welle – a former federal cybercrime prosecutor – says:
The government is usually more than a few steps behind the criminals when it comes to innovation and technology. This is not the kind of thing that would show up in your basic training. There will be manuals edited and updated… This is how you approach crypto tracing. This is how you approach crypto seizure.
Koopman says that his agency often works on joint team ventures with other organizations that are also part of the U.S. government system. Some of the past stings the IRS has conducted have involved assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He says:
A lot of cases, especially in the cyber arena, become… joint investigations, because no one agency can do it all.
What Kind of Cases Are We Talking About?
Among the cases that his team often investigates include tax evasion, money laundering, and phony tax returns. He says:
We all come together when it’s time to execute any type of enforcement action, whether that’s an arrest, a seizure, or a search warrant, and that could be nationally or globally… We maintain private keys only in headquarters so that they can’t be tampered with… In the 2019 fiscal year, we had about $700,000 worth of crypto seizures. In 2020, it was up to $137 million, and so far in 2021, we’re at $1.2 billion.