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Online Drug Dealer Wants His Bitcoins Back

Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht believes that the DEA's seizure of his assets aren't subject to civil forfeiture rules. The government thinks otherwise.

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By McCarton Ackerman

12/27/13

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An accused online drug dealer seems more concerned about getting his bitcoin money back than the charges filed against him. San Francisco native Ross Ulbricht, who was arrested last October for allegedly running the black market drug site Silk Road, has asked the government to return $30 million in bitcoins that were seized from his computers. Silk Road made headlines last year for allowing anonymous users to buy and sell drug contraband and other illegal services, raking in up to $1 million per month in profit.

Prosecutors ultimately seized 144,336 bitcoins from Ulbricht’s computers when he was arrested, but he is arguing that the currency should be returned because it isn’t subject to civil forfeiture rules. However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency managed to seize $814 worth of Silk Road’s preferred form of payment after South Carolina native Eric Daniel Hughes used it to purchase a “controlled substance.”

Initially launched in February 2011, Silk Road had an estimated $22 million in annual sales and its operators generated up to $6,000 in commission for themselves per day. "It's not a matter of police locking a few guys up to end this. It is very distributed. We are looking at more than 600 sellers each month," said Dr. Nicolas Cristin, who conducted research on the website.

The site wasn’t entirely foolproof, though. In July 2012, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officers in Melbourne and Sydney busted Paul Leslie Howard for using the Silk Road to mail 47 grams of MDMA and 14.5 grams of cocaine to his home. He had reportedly used Silk Road to buy and import MDMA, amphetamines, marijuana, and cocaine on 11 different occasions.

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