The Intriguing Saga of Jimmy Zhong: The $3 Billion Crypto Thief
Jimmy Zhong – the $3 billion Bitcoin (BTC) thief behind the Silk Road marketplace hack in 2012 – was ironically caught by investigators after trying to report another crypto thief to the police.
On March 19, 2019, a 28-year-old Zhong called 911 to report a a theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bitcoin from his home. After first contacting the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and later a private investigator in Loganville, Georgia.
Neither group could ultimately track down who stole the coins – which were thought to amount to 150 BTC worth roughly $600,000 at the time.
However, this 911 call turned against Zhong months later, when blockchain investigators traced the infamous hack back to the computer specialist. Specifically, Chainalysis identified a transaction from one of the hacker’s wallets in September 2019, in which $800 worth of Bitcoin was sent to a network address controlled by a centralized crypto exchange.
The exchange, which abided by know-your-customer processes, showed that the address was connected to an account controlled by Zhong. This gave the IRS the lead they needed to have a real suspect – but wasn’t enough to prove Zhong guilty.
How Zhong Got Caught
That’s where the hacker’s 911 call in March would turn against him. In collaboration with the Athens-Clarke Country Police Department, two IRS agents and one police officer would investigate Zhong in his own home, under the guise of investigating the theft he had reported six months prior.
At the time, Zhong had utterly bought into the ruse. “If you guys solve this for me, I will invite you out for a party,” he told the trio, according to bodycam footage seen by CNBC.
The investigators eventually convinced Zhong to explain how he’d procured his bitcoin to begin with. The computer specialist then opened a Bitcoin wallet on his laptop revealing over $60 million of BTC inside.
With this evidence, the group was able to secure a search warrant on Zhong’s home. Officers raided the house on November 9, 2021, during which they found secret wallets bearing millions of dollars worth of bitcoin – including coins from the original Silk Road hack.
Zhong was ultimately charged with wire fraud, to which he pled guilty. He began his one-year-long prison sentence in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 14, 2023.
As for the U.S. government, Bitcoin’s surging value since the time of the theft has made it privy to major profits after having seized the coins. The Department of Justice has been selling the stolen assets throughout the year, already netting over $500 million from its sales so far.