You've heard of policemen's auctions, in which local law enforcement auction off the personal possessions of criminals who have been stripped of their fortunes. Faberge eggs of unknown provenance, for example, seized from a disgraced drug lord. The U.S. Marshals Service is doing more or less the same thing with Bitcoin: On Friday, June 13, its web site had the improbable announcement:
At the exchange rate at the time of this posting, that is the equivalent of US$17,395,620.87. By that measure, fronting the U.S. Marshals $200,000 seems more than reasonable.
Where did this BTC come from? It was seized in from the e-commerce site Silk Road, an illegal decentralized market where every drug known to man could be purchased, and purchased with BTC. The FBI shut down Silk Road in October 2013, and arrested its alleged founder, Ross William Ulbricht, charging him with charges ranging from computer hacking to narcotics trafficking.
The BTC up for grabs, according to the U.S. Marshals official site, was that residing in bitcoin wallet files contained on Silk Road servers. In other words, the money belonged to the customers who had been buying and selling drugs on Silk Road. As for the main culprit, the site specifies that Ross' assets are not included in the lot [all caps in original]:
THIS AUCTION DOES NOT INCLUDE THE BITCOINS CONTAINED IN WALLET FILES THAT RESIDED ON CERTAIN COMPUTER HARDWARE BELONGING TO ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, THAT WERE SEIZED ON OR ABOUT OCTOBER 24, 2013 (“DPR SEIZED COINS”).
In a way, this news should be reassuring to the Bitcoin community: it's yet another bit of proof that the U.S. government really does take Bitcoin seriously as a currency. If it were all vapor or a figment of everyone's imagination, there would have been nothing to seize and sell.
For those wishing to partake, bidder registration deadlines are June 16 and June 23, 2014, and the auction itself takes place on June 27, 2014, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.