A man was arrested on July 18 for trying to launder $19 million of bitcoin earned on the darknet drug marketplace Silk Road. Hugh Haney faces one charge of money laundering and one count of engaging in a financial transaction using illegally-gotten gains. If guilty, he could face up to 30 years behind bars.
Homeland Security managed to identify Haney when he moved the stolen funds to an unidentified crypto exchange. The exchange knew his identity thanks to its know-your-customer identity requirements. Haney claimed the large amounts of bitcoin were proceeds from bitcoin mining, but Homeland Security had followed the transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain and knew they were proceeds from the Silk Road. Once the bitcoin—which was earned between 2012 and 2013—was transferred into cash, officers seized the money.
Silk Road was one of the original and most popular darknet marketplaces for buying and selling drugs, and other illegal (and legal) items. It was shut down by the FBI in 2013 and its founder Ross Ulbricht was later sentenced to life in prison without parole. In its two and a half year lifespan, it was reported to have more than 100,000 customers.
While Silk Road has long since deceased, the dark web continues to be a popular place for bitcoin. According to Chainalysis, more than $600 million worth of bitcoin was funneled into the dark web in 2018. But, the proportion of bitcoin being used for ilicit activities compared to legal ones has plummeted from nearly seven percent in 2012, to a fraction of a percent today. Crime in crypto, it seems, still pays.