US seizes $54M worth of Ethereum linked to illegal narcotics business
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the seizure of 30,000 Ether (ETH), valued at $54 million, that had been linked to illegal narcotics distribution in New Jersey, according to a Nov. 2 statement.
The assets in question were traced back to Christopher Castelluzo, who conducted narcotic operations from 2010 to 2015. While his illicit activities began in 2010, Castelluzo only transitioned to using Bitcoin (BTC) for narcotic transactions on darknets in 2013.
Castelluzzo is currently serving concurrent 20-year federal and state prison sentences for drug distribution convictions.
30k ETH bought at ICO
What is particularly noteworthy is that Castelluzo initially acquired the 30,000 ETH during its Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in July 2014, using 15 BTC stemming from his illegal narcotics business. At the time, the 30,000 ETH was worth a mere $9,000, but its current value has surged to more than $54 million as of press time.
In addition to Ethereum, Castelluzo also obtained 30,000 Ethereum Classic (ETC) in 2016, which he used to acquire other cryptocurrencies.
Subsequent to his arrest and incarceration, Castelluzzo attempted to launder the 30,000 ETH while in prison. However, U.S. authorities foiled this scheme by intercepting recorded prison telephone calls in 2021, ultimately leading to the seizure of the assets.
U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger stated:
“The civil action we are taking today seeks to recover millions of dollars of cryptocurrency, which the defendant allegedly obtained from drug sales. Whether it’s as simple as bags of cash or as sophisticated as cryptocurrency, we will take the steps necessary to seize financial gains defendants obtain from criminal activity.”
James E. Dennehy, the FBI Special Agent overseeing the case, emphasized that the forfeiture action serves as a warning to others involved in criminal activities. He added that the government is committed to holding criminals accountable for their actions.