How does the U.S. government dispose of the seized and seized crypto assets?

Historically, the government’s cryptocurrency auctions “performed poorly” in seizing market opportunities.

Original title: How does the US government handle its huge “crypto vault”?


  • The US government regularly holds auctions to auction its seized stocks of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and other cryptocurrencies.
  • With the banning of the “Silk Road” in 2013, the auction kicked off. The “Silk Road” is a dark web market that engages in illegal commodity trading.
  • “It may be 10 boats, 12 cars, and maybe some bitcoins (at auction),” said Jarod Koopman, director of the Cybercrime Division of the IRS.

For many years, the US government has been auctioning Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Historically, “Uncle Sam” has done a terrible job of seizing market opportunities.

Remember in 2018, the U.S. government sold Riot Blockchain 500 Bitcoins for about 5 million U.S. dollars? These bitcoins are now worth more than 23 million U.S. dollars. And in 2014, billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper obtained 30,000 bitcoins at a price of 19 million U.S. dollars? This will exceed $1.3 billion today.

The U.S. government obtained all these bitcoins through seizures, as well as some common assets that people can easily imagine. These assets are all sold in a similar way.

“It may be 10 ships, 12 cars, and one of the auction items is X bitcoins.” said Jarod Koopman, director of the Cybercrime Department of the IRS.

Next, the government will sell the previously confiscated cryptocurrency worth $56 million at the auction. These cryptocurrencies were confiscated by the authorities in a Ponzi scheme involving the offshore crypto loan project BitConnect. Unlike other auctions, the auction proceeds will be redistributed to different government agencies, and the cash from the cryptocurrency sale will be used to compensate victims of fraud.

The government’s cryptocurrency confiscation and sales business has grown so fast that it began to seek help from the private sector to manage the storage and sales of its hoarded tokens.

Seizure and storage of Bitcoin

To a large extent, the United States has been using traditional crime-fighting tools to track and capture encrypted tokens, and some tokens are designed to evade law enforcement by nature.

“In terms of innovation and technology, the government is usually more than a few steps behind criminals,” said Jud Welle, a former federal cybercrime prosecutor.

“This is not the kind of situation that would happen in your basic training,” Welle added. But he predicts that within three to five years, “there will be an edited and updated operating manual to inform law enforcement officers of the method of handling encrypted tracking and seizure.”

Currently, there are three main stages in the circulation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the US criminal justice system.

The first stage is search and seizure . The second stage is to liquidate the confiscated cryptocurrency. The third stage is to deploy the proceeds of these cryptocurrency sales.

According to Koopman, in practice, the first stage is collective effort. He said that his team often conducts joint investigations with other government agencies. This could be the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, or Tobacco, Alcohol, Weapons and Explosives Administration.

“A lot of cases, especially in the network field, have become…joint investigations, because no single institution can do all of this,” Koopman said. He participated in the government’s Silk Road case and the 2017 AlphaBay investigation, which eventually led to the closure of another popular and large darknet market.

Koopman said that his department at the US Internal Revenue Service usually handles encrypted tracking and open source intelligence, including investigations of tax evasion, false tax declarations, and money laundering. His team consists of sworn law enforcement officers who carry weapons and badges to execute search, arrest and seizure orders.

Other institutions with more funding and resources focus on technology components.

“When any type of enforcement action needs to be executed, we all gather, whether it is an arrest, seizure or search warrant. This may be national or global,” he said.

During the seizure, multiple agents will be involved to ensure proper supervision. This includes managers who set up the necessary hardware wallets to protect the seized cryptocurrency.

“We only maintain the private key at the headquarters so that it cannot be tampered with,” Koopman said.

In recent years, the U.S. government has confiscated a record amount of cryptocurrency.

“In fiscal year 2019, we seized approximately $700,000 worth of cryptocurrency. In 2020, this figure reached $137 million. So far, it is $1.2 billion so far in 2021,” Koopman told CNBC in August. The fiscal year ended September 30.

With the rise of cybercrime — and the subsequent digital tokens — the government’s “crypto vault” is expected to be “filled up.”

Cryptocurrency is auctioned in batches

Once the case is closed, the U.S. Marshals Service is the main agency responsible for auctioning government cryptocurrency assets. To date, the agency has seized and auctioned more than 185,000 bitcoins. These cryptocurrencies are currently worth about $8.6 billion, but many are sold in bulk at prices far below today.

This is a major responsibility for a government agency, and this is part of the reason why the Bailiff Bureau no longer undertakes this task alone.

The U.S. General Services Administration is an agency that usually auctions remaining federal assets such as tractors. Earlier this year, the agency added confiscated cryptocurrencies to the auction table.

In July of this year, after more than a year of investigation, the Department of Justice hired San Francisco-based Anchorage Digital as the custodian of the cryptocurrency seized or confiscated in criminal cases. Anchorage is the first federally chartered crypto bank that will help the government store and liquidate this digital asset. The contract was previously awarded to BitGo.

“The bailiff is recruiting professionals to help them. This is a good sign that this situation will continue.” Sharon Cohen Levin said. She participated in the first Silk Road prosecution and served as the head of the money laundering and asset forfeiture department in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for 20 years.

According to Koopman, the process of auctioning cryptocurrencies in batches at fair market value may not change.

“You basically have to line up to auction it off. We don’t want these assets to flood the market in large numbers, that might affect pricing.”

But Koopman stated that, apart from interval sales, his goal is not to try to “timing” the market to sell at peak prices. “We will not try to manipulate the market.” He said.

In November 2020, the government confiscated US$1 billion worth of Bitcoin related to the Silk Road. As the case is still pending, these bitcoins are left unused in an encrypted wallet. If the government sold its Bitcoin positions when the Bitcoin price reached a high of $67,000 last month, the “crypto vault” deposits would be much higher than liquidation at today’s price.

How does the U.S. government dispose of the seized and seized crypto assets?

Where did the money go

Once the case is closed, the cryptocurrency will be converted into legal tender, and the federal government will redistribute it. Proceeds from the sale are usually deposited into one of two accounts: Treasury Forfeiture Fund or Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund.

“The relevant investigative agency determines which fund these funds go to.” Levin said.

Koopman stated that the cryptocurrencies tracked and confiscated by his team accounted for approximately 60% to 70% of the US Treasury Department’s confiscated funds, making it the largest individual contributor.

After the confiscated Bitcoin is put into one of these two funds, the liquidated cryptocurrency can be put into a variety of projects. For example, Congress can cancel this money and use it for other projects.

“Intelligence agencies can apply to obtain part of the funds as operational funds.” Koopman said, “We can also make a request, for example,’we are seeking additional licenses or equipment,’ and then the Executive Office of the Ministry of Finance will review it.”

In some years, Koopman’s team will receive different installments based on proposals. But for some years, they get nothing, because Congress will choose to cancel all funds in the account.

Alex Lakatos, a partner at the Washington law firm Mayer Brown, said tracking the whereabouts of the money is not a simple process. Lakatos advises clients on fines and forfeitures.

The Ministry of Justice hosted the website, which provides some information on current seizure operations. For example, this document outlines a case in May where 1.04430259 bitcoins were confiscated from a personal hardware wallet in Kansas. In April of this year, a resident of Texas also had 10 bitcoins seized. However, it is not clear whether this list includes all the cases that are being heard.

“I don’t think any place has all the cryptocurrencies held by the U.S. Marshals, let alone the different states that may have confiscated cryptocurrencies. It’s a hodgepodge,” Lakatos said. “I don’t even know if it will be in the government. Someone wants to support this and what they will do.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told CNBC that he was “very certain” that there was no central database of confiscated cryptocurrencies.

But it is obvious that more and more cases of cryptocurrency seizures are being publicized to the public. For example, earlier this year, the FBI hacked the Bitcoin wallet held by the Colonial Pipeline hacker.

“According to my experience, those who hold these positions at the top of the government may only stay there for a short period of time, and they want to achieve something during this period.” Welle said, “This kind of thing will definitely cause Attention journalists and cybersecurity experts.”

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