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Man gets prison time after feds discover $3.4 billion in stolen Bitcoin hidden inside a Cheetos popcorn tin and underground safe

Cheetos popcorn tinJames Zhong was storing billions of dollars worth of Bitcoin in both an underground safe and a Cheetos popcorn tin.

US Department of Justice

  • A man convicted of stealing around 50,000 Bitcoin was sentenced Friday to a year in prison.
  • At the it was seized, the Bitcoin was worth over $3.4 billion.
  • Prosecutors said the crypto-currency was stolen from the Silk Road dark web marketplace.

A man who stored billions of dollars worth of stolen crypto-currency in an underground safe — and a Cheetos popcorn tin — was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in prison.

According to federal prosecutors, James Zhong, 32, stole more than 50,000 Bitcoin from Silk Road, a marketplace on the so-called “dark web” where users can buy anything from pornography to illicit drugs. Its founder, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced in 2015 to life in prison without the possibility of parole after he was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering, and hacking, among other charges.

Zhong was able to steal from the marketplace by creating multiple accounts and tricking Silk Road into releasing the Bitcoin to his accounts; per the Department of Justice. He never actually purchased or sold anything on the website, according to a DOJ statement.

“Back in 2012, James Zhong committed wire fraud by stealing 50,000 Bitcoin from Silk Road, and for the next 10 years, he managed to conceal what he had done and how he obtained his fortune,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in the statement.

But in November 2021, US authorities obtained a search warrant to search his home in Gainesville, Georgia. There investigators recovered more than 50,000 Bitcoin, split between “an underground floor safe and on a single-board computer that was submerged under blankets in a popcorn tin stored in a bathroom closet.” Authorities also recovered at Zhong’s home more than $660,000 in cash, as well as silver and gold bars.

At the time the Bitcoin was seized, it was valued at $3.4 billion and today is still worth more than $1.5 billion, according to the DOJ.

A photo shared by the department shows that the crypto tin originally contained Cheetos-brand popcorn in both Flamin’ Hot and Cheddar flavors. According to media reports, the tin and its promise of “2 favorites together” was available exclusively at Walmart during the 2020 holiday season.

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