In recent developments, US authorities led by US Attorney Philip R. Sellinger successfully seized $54 million worth of Ethereum (ETH) from Christopher Castelluzzo, a convicted drug dealer operating in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey.
Massive Crypto Bust
The US Attorney’s Office filed a civil forfeiture action to recover previously seized cryptocurrency that was determined to be the proceeds of an illegal narcotics distribution scheme operating in and around New Jersey.
US Attorney Philip R. Sellinger emphasized law enforcement’s “commitment” to seizing financial gains from criminal activity, regardless of the form they take. Sellinger further 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.
According to the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) press release on the case, the prosecution sheds light on using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum by criminals on the darknet to evade detection.
In addition, James E. Dennehy, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Newark, stated that the FBI played a critical role in uncovering the illegal conduct and ill-gotten proceeds.
Drug Trafficker’s Ethereum Stash Seized
According to court documents and the investigations conducted, Christopher Castelluzzo and his associates conspired to sell narcotics between 2010 and 2015.
In 2013, they allegedly began trading drugs on darknet platforms in exchange for Bitcoin. Castelluzzo, using proceeds from narcotics sales, participated in Ethereum’s Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in July 2014, acquiring 30,000 Ethereum. Additionally, Castelluzzo received 30,000 ETH Classic in 2016.
Castelluzzo’s plan to move the funds to a tax haven in Ireland, Malta, or the Bahamas, or potentially keep them in USDT (Tether), was revealed in forfeiture documents.
However, a subsequent search warrant led to the raid of Brian Krewson’s residence, an associate of Castelluzzo. Police discovered the relevant crypto wallets under Krewson’s control, and after obtaining the necessary passwords, law enforcement executed the seizure of the Ethereum, valued at $31 million at the time.
Currently serving concurrent 20-year federal and state prison sentences for drug distribution convictions, Castelluzzo attempted to evade taxes and transfer the 30,000 Ethereum out of the United States while incarcerated.
However, Castelluzzo’s plans were intercepted when recorded prison telephone calls exposed his efforts to launder the cryptocurrency. As a result, the United States intervened and seized Castelluzzo’s cryptocurrency holdings linked to his drug trafficking crimes.
The current value of the 30,000 Ethereum stands at approximately $54 million, underscoring the significant impact of the seizure.
As of the time of writing, ETH is trading at $1,815, reflecting a 0.9% increase over the past 24 hours and a steady upward trend of over 2% in the past seven days, exhibiting strong bullish momentum in the market.
Featured image from Shutterstock, chart from TradingView.com