U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced Thursday the forfeiture of approximately 29,655 Bitcoins ($28 million) that were seized as part of a large seizure involving online marketplace Silk Road back in September 2013. It is the largest forfeiture of Bitcoins ever.
The Silk Road is an online marketplace associated with the Deep Web, a network of websites that are not indexed by standard search engines like Google and used for anonymity. The Silk Road has been called the “Amazon.com of illegal drugs” because it regularly acted as a marketplace for illicit substances.
The Silk Road website itself was also part of the forfeiture. The property and Bitcoins were forfeited because “[they] allegedly were used to facilitate money laundering and constitute property involved in money laundering.”
A civil forfeiture is "an in rem action [against the property] action brought in court against a property." The property is the defendant and involves no criminal charges against the owner, according to the United States Department of Justice.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Bharara said, "With today’s forfeiture of $28 million worth of Bitcoins … we continue our efforts to take the profit out of crime and signal to those who would turn to the dark web for illicit activity that they have chosen the wrong path. These Bitcoins were forfeited not because they are Bitcoins, but because they were, as the court found, the proceeds of crimes.”
Although the forfeiture today does not involve criminal charges, a criminal complaint was brought against the alleged owner and operator of Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht, known as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” last September that charges him with one count of narcotics conspiracy, one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking and one count of money laundering conspiracy.
In October, the FBI seized 144,336 Bitcoins ($130 million) found on Ulbricht’s computer hardware. Ulbricht has filed a claim in the forfeiture, claiming he is the owner of the Bitcoins found on his hardware.
After the seizure of the Bitcoins last September, prices of the online currency dropped to $129 per Bitcoin from more than $140 per Bitcoin the day before. Over the last year, Bitcoin has gone from about $15 per Bitcoin to a high of more than $1,000. It currently sits at $842.63 per Bitcoin.