The Bitcoin virtual currency, while still an intriguing concept (and one that may yet prove to have more practical value than originally predicted) has hit what you might call a minor “PR snag” (after all, its original creation by the Winklevoss twins sort of already gave Bitcoin an inherent creepiness from the beginning…)
According to federal prosecutors, a criminal enterprise identified as “Silk Road,” allegedly operated by a gentleman named Ross William Ulbricht had the specific purpose of allowing its members to engage in large scale illegal activities – primarily narcotics money-laundering and even direct illegal drug transactions – using the electronic currency to conceal misconduct. Among other things, the Feds seized 26 million Bitcoins worth more than $3.6 million at current exchange rates – the largest ever such seizure in Bitcoin history. More staggering still is the overall size of the operation: 600,000 Bitcoins changed hands on the site, which at current exchange rates translates to $1.2 billion.
And then there’s this… as any fan of “Breaking Bad” will point out, drug trafficking is all fun and games until someone takes a bullet (or several) in the back of the head. While there is not yet proof Bitcoins have been used to finance actual homicides, the rapidly accumulating evidence increasingly appears to be pointing in that direction.
So how much does a hit man cost in Bitcoins? Ulbricht (A/K/A the Dread Pirate Roberts) shelled out approximately $150,000 of them in his effort to whack a certain Canadian identified only as the “FriendlyChemist.” The Washington Post reported: “The complaint suggests that Ulbricht paid [a] supposed hit-man approximately $150,000 to kill a Canadian man and received a picture purporting to be the deceased victim.” As it turns out, however, this was likely a set-up and, to date, no evidence of actual murder has been discovered.
Perhaps the most intriguing detail of this sordid saga is that – much like the original 1990s World Trade Center bombers who got caught because they attempted to collect the refund on the van used during the bombing – Ulbricht most likely came to the authorities’ attention because even arch-evil Bitcoin criminal masterminds are apparently exceedingly cheap: that is, repeatedly offering only a mere 80 grand to have FriendlyChemist eliminated. Now I don’t usually employ hit-men, but if I did……. Ok – we’ll hold that thought.
Ulbricht’s undisguised written negotiations – now in the hands of the Feds and Canadian police – don’t portend a lot more Bitcoin usage for this not-so-wily Dread Pirate Roberts . . . Then again, if there’s one place where “alternative currencies” are still all the rage, clearly it’s the proverbial Big House. So who knows? Perhaps Ulbricht’s career path has just taken an exciting new turn.
America: the land of endless opportunity – whether you fail to invent Facebook or take an extended vacation in the slammer.