$1.7M forfeited by criminals given to law enforcement agencies

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More than $1.7 million forfeited by criminals convicted of stealing $4.5 million worth of bitcoins will be shared between three Florida law enforcement agencies that helped federal investigators crack the case, U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez and Special Agent In Charge James Spero, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations announced Wednesday.

Nassau County received just over $1,044,550, with the Florida National Guard awarded  $627,487 and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office getting $209,162.

“I applaud the cooperation and diligence of our law enforcement partners in working with us to investigate and prosecute this case successfully,” Lopez said. “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 agencies were presented the funds Wednesday at the Jacksonville Office of Homeland Security Investigations.  

"This will allow our agency to provide much needed equipment to make sure it's up to date, to make sure we provide the best safety for our citizens as we can," Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said. "We are proud partners of our federal and local state agencies and we appreciate the cooperation they provide."

According to court documents, Homeland Security learned in November 2013 of the theft of approximately 5,400 bitcoins from Sheep Marketplace, an illicit online marketplace that has since been shut down. Sheep Marketplace was used predominantly for the illicit sale of narcotics.

Prosecutors said Jacksonville residents Sean Mackert and Nathan Gibson determined that the Sheep Marketplace had a single online “wallet” containing the bitcoins and they devised a scheme that tricked Sheep Marketplace’s “wallet” into transferring the bitcoins of others into “wallets” they controlled.

During their investigation, HSI agents determined that Mackert and Gibson had routed the bitcoins through multiple online “wallets,” then wired them to a licensed money service business. At their direction, the money service business exchanged the bitcoins for United States currency, then wired the funds to bank accounts in Jacksonville that were controlled by Mackert and Gibson. 

Mackert and Gibson both have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and are awaiting sentencing. Each faces up to 20 years in federal prison. 

“The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida National Guard’s counter-drug program and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office all worked with HSI to hold these criminals accountable, and we are honored to be able to publicly recognize them for their hard work, while sharing with them a large portion of the seized monies,” Spero said.

Each agency said the funding will be used for projects and equipment within the departments.

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