A Bitcoin "original gangster" who stole cryptocurrency from the original Silk Road a decade ago spent lavishly — but lived what sounds like a sad and lonely life before he was caught.
As CNBC reports, Bitcoin thief Jimmy Zhong not only helped write the original code of the cryptocurrency and early blockchain tech, but he also pilfered a bunch of it off the Silk Road in 2012, when its worth was a small fraction of what it became by the time he was busted in 2019.
He was also something of a rich nerd stereotype in Athens, Georgia, where he lived — a hard-partying local who dropped thousands to fly his friends cross-country on a private jet to attend a football game and had a stripper pole in his house "for the girls," all of which masked how shallow those connections really were.
Zhong's fall from crypto grace began in March 2019, when he called the local police department in a panic because someone had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crypto from his house near the University of Georgia's campus — which is pretty ironic considering that the Bitcoin stolen from him was itself stolen.
"I’m having a panic attack," the then-28-year-old computer scientist told the Athens-Clarke County Police dispatcher, per transcripts reviewed by CNBC.
Though he tried to explain to the cops the significance of someone stealing 150 bitcoins from his house, calling it "kind of an online thing," the local authorities were far out of their depth. To try to get to the bottom of the case, he hired Robin Martinelli, a private investigator in a nearby town.
Herself far from a crypto expert, Martinelli said that as she learned more about bitcoin and about Zhong's case, she warmed to him — and felt the exact opposite way of the people he kept around him, whom she surveilled in attempts to see which of them had broken in and stolen whatever the crypto was physically stored on.
Zong's friends, Martinelli said, were "very, very casual, plastic, not really caring, maybe using Jimmy a little bit." But he didn't respond well to her suspicions, seemingly clinging to the idea that his social circle was drawn by something other than a meal ticket.
"He would get upset," the PI said, "when I would kind of mention somebody would had to have known where this cash was."
"Jimmy wanted to be loved," she added. "Jimmy wanted friends."
Ultimately, that desire to be loved may have led to his downfall. As CNBC reports, that 2019 theft — which remains unsolved — brought government attention to Zhong, who, as it turns out, had been involved in the earliest days of crypto.
Body camera footage reviewed by the news outlet showed how the young man's desire to be liked was turned against him when Zhong invited authorities into his house, where they were able to successfully ascertain that he had at least one Bitcoin wallet with tens of millions of dollars worth of crypto in it.
They then served him with a search warrant and tore his house apart until they found the computer that contained the rest of the 2012 Silk Road theft that netted Zhong 50,000 bitcoins, which ended up being worth a whopping $3 billion. It was the Justice Department's largest crypto seizure to date, and because nobody came forward to claim it, all of the proceeds went into government coffers.
Though he was far from the first nerd to get rich and try to buy relationships — there was even an entire arc in "30 Rock" about such a man, the very year of the Silk Road theft — Zhong's painfully obvious loneliness adds a tragic new dimension to one the largest and earliest crypto crimes.
Now 33, Zhong reported to a minimum-security federal prison camp in Alabama earlier this year and will only be there for 366 days, CNBC reports, which seems much more like a white-collar wrist slap than a book-throwing, and constitutes yet another all-too-familiar aspect of this saga.
More on crypto crime: You Have Got To See This Unhinged SBF Memo
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