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The U.S. Marshals Are Auctioning Off $52 Million in Bitcoin Seized from Drug Dealers

January 11, 2018, 7:59 PM UTC

The U.S. Marshals Service will auction off 3,813 bitcoins valued at about $52 million that were seized in connection with a number of high-profile federal, state and local cases including drug busts and money-laundering schemes.

The auction, the sixth by the Department of Justice agency, would likely raise a record amount for the government based on current prices. The sale will take place during a six-hour period on Jan. 22. The digital coins will be offered in 11 blocks, the largest of which will contain 813 bitcoins. Participants are required to make a deposit of $200,000, the agency said in a statement Thursday.

The sale represents a rare opportunity for investors to purchase a large amount of bitcoin outside of online exchanges, though at much higher prices than at past sales. The last auction took place in August 2016, when the agency offered 2,700 bitcoins from 12 cases. Back then, bitcoin traded around $586, and the whole batch had a market value of $1.58 million. Bitcoin traded at about $13,750 Thursday, after surging 1,400 percent last year.

In one case where bitcoin was seized, Aaron Michael Shamo is accused of being a part of a global fentanyl operation that is one of Utah’s largest drug actions, according to local press reports and court filings.

The largest amount of bitcoins the agency ever auctioned off was 50,000 coins in December 2014. Back then, one bitcoin cost about $373, so the whole hoard had a market value of $18.65 million. The agency never discloses the price at which winners get their bitcoins.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper was the sole winner of about 30,000 bitcoins in a 2014 sale. SecondMarket, now part of Nasdaq, won a large swath of bitcoin in a previous auction as well.