In Jacksonville, Florida, United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced that three law enforcement agencies would be “awarded” with the funds stolen by the Sheep Marketplace hackers between 2013 and 2014. The announcement took place at a Homeland Security Investigations Office in Jacksonville. And even though the ICE-HSI Special Agent in Charge, James Spero, helped make the announcement, and neither Homeland Security nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement received a piece of the $1.7 million in seized Bitcoin.
According to the United States Attorney and ICE-HSI Special Agent in Charge, the Nassau County Sheriff’s will be receiving $1,044,550.05; the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will be receiving $209,162.58; and the Florida National Guard will be receiving $627,487.74. The two government employees who announced the news explained that the “awards” were given pursuant to the Equitable Sharing Program established by the Department of Treasury.
“I applaud the cooperation and diligence of our law enforcement partners in working with us to investigate and prosecute this case successfully,” said U.S. Attorney Chapa Lopez. The attorney continued, explaining how the seized funds were rightfully “returned” to the United States government. “Divesting criminals of their ill-gotten gains and returning these resources to our enforcement agencies is yet another step in continuing our fight against crime.”
The money came from, ultimately, the users of a former darknet marketplace known as “Sheep” or “Sheep Market.” In 2013, Jacksonville residents Sean Mackert and Nathan Gibson found a way to exploit the marketplace’s bitcoin wallets and redirect payments to themselves. They made off with 5,400 bitcoins, FBI and Homeland Security Investigations agents wrote in court documents. The U.S. arrested the duo and seized $4.5 million from their bank accounts (and took a Toyota Camry that belonged to one of the suspects).
Many users, after the initial theft by Mackert and Gibson, found themselves unable to make withdrawals on the site. The Sheep Market owner, Tomáš Jiřikovský, attempted to elaborate scam market users out of any remaining bitcoin. And he managed to successfully exit scam. Or almost successfully. In March 2015, South Moravian arrested Jiřikovský but kept the news fairly quiet. The authorities talked to the press about the case in August 2016, revealing that Jiřikovský had stolen thousands upon thousands of bitcoins. He had even purchased a house—under a family member’s name—with some of the money he had stolen.
“This asset sharing is a perfect example of how a criminal’s illegal profits can be used to protect the citizens of our communities,” Special Agent in Charge Spero said during the press conference where United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced that the three law enforcement agencies would be receiving an “award.”