Where would you hide $3.4 billion worth of Bitcoin? For James Zhong, the ideal spot was to store it on a computer — with its circuitry exposed — placed in a used Cheetos popcorn tin hidden in a bathroom closet under a pile of blankets.
Zhong, now 32, was sentenced to a year in federal prison last month for a hack that took place almost 11 years ago. His victim? Ross Ulbricht, the proprietor of the Silk Road dark web drug marketplace where Bitcoin found its first significant use case, as an underground currency. Today, Ulbricht is himself serving two life sentences plus 40 years for his part in operating the illegal marketplace, but darknet markets continue to flourish.
Somewhat ironically, billionaire Zhong was caught due to a transfer of just $1,000 worth of BTC to an address he’d used previously.
Prosecutors stated that Zhong spent lavishly on luxuries. (Zhong’s social media)
Lifestyle of a crypto billionaire
How much is $3.4 billion? One could build another Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest tower, located in Dubai ($1.5 billion) — and make the winning bid on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” — the most expensive painting ever sold ($450 million) — and still have over a billion left over to purchase a sports team, yacht and fleet of private jets. It’s almost beyond comprehension.
The computer containing most of Zhong’s Bitcoin, found in a popcorn tin. (United States Department of Justice)
But Zhong lived in the American city of Gainesville, Georgia, where around $1 million is enough to purchase the luxurious four-bedroom lakefront property he called home. According to some sources, gaining attention from women was among the key motivations of Zhong — who is autistic and was reportedly bullied in school. Court documents hint at his lavish lifestyle:
“Indeed, in the 51 months before law enforcement’s overt search of Zhong’s residences, Zhong dissipated approximately $16 million of crime proceeds, spending lavishly on real estate…