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Drug Sentence Results in First Massachusetts Cryptocurrency Forfeiture Worth 2M

When a person is being charged or investigated with a crime, forfeiture of assets can become an important part of the process of law enforcement or sentencing. Sometimes very large amounts of assets that are proved or suspected of resulting from criminal activities can be seized. It’s not just assets: any equipment or vehicles proved or suspected of being associated with a crime can be seized.

In federal court Binh Than Le, 25, the leader and organizer of a “dark web” drug trafficking operation was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release. He was also ordered to forfeit more than 59 Bitcoin worth in excess of $2 million, $114, 680 in cash, $42,390 received from the sale of 2018 BMW M3 and other items used in the operation including a pill press and currency counter. Le pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Ketamine and Alprazolam (Xanax). 

Even though cryptocurrency assets are increasingly involved in illegal transactions on the “Dark Web,” this is the first time cryptocurrency has been forfeited in any Massachusetts case. 

Why It’s Important

Illegal activities are increasingly conducted via the “Dark Web.” These anonymized transactions involve cryptocurrency, virtual assets that are recorded on the “blockchain,” a digital ledger. Bitcoin is the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market, with each bitcoin currently worth about $38,000. 

Undercover law enforcement officers conducted a sting operation in which they met Le at a hotel in Norwood to exchange $200,000 worth of Bitcoin for cash. Le was then arrested. Le’s operation took place in a rented office space where wholesale quantities of controlled substances were received in the mail. Orders and payments for the illegal substances were received via bitcoin, and then mailed to customers in the U.S.

U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins and federal law enforcement officers have signaled that the case should send a strong message that using the U.S. mail to transport narcotics will be taken extremely seriously. Rachael Rollins stated that Dark Web criminals should take heed that “the federal government is entering this space.”

Mail order drug trafficking is an increasingly popular way of receiving and sending controlled substances. Not many people are aware that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are federal agents. Law enforcement and prosecutors have signaled that they are prepared for a severe crack down on anyone distributing controlled substances in this manner. 

What Is Forfeiture?

Forfeiture of assets is a serious, and often controversial, part of the law enforcement process and the sentencing for criminal activities. It is controversial, because forfeiture of assets is often used to fund the activities of law enforcement. It has been pointed out that this could lead to unreasonable seizure. In Massachusetts up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement. There are more than 400 federal statutes that empower police to take assets from convicted criminals, and even from those not charged with criminality. 

Criminal forfeiture can happen as a result of a conviction or indictment, or in civil forfeiture, assets can be seized on suspicion of wrongdoing. It is often up to a person whose assets are seized to prove that their assets are not involved in wrongdoing. The burden of proof for whether assets can be associated with a crime varies from case to case and depending what kind of forfeiture it is.

Forfeiture is an extremely punitive part of the law enforcement and sentencing process. 

It is quite easy for law enforcement to find grounds to seize large or small assets from parties accused of a crime, convicted of a crime, or even those associated with a crime. Often, the burden of proof for forfeiture is less than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard used to convict of a crime. It is critical that anyone who is accused of a crime whose assets may be forfeited retains an experienced and dedicated criminal law attorney who can fight for them. At Dhar Law, our experienced criminal defense attorneys have fought many federal cases on behalf of defendants. We believe in the right to a fair trial and protecting the constitutional right against unreasonable seizure. Please call us at (617) 880-6155, so we can get to work on your case.

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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

I have the power and the skill to be able to save people from themselves. I can be your guide during the darkness. I can hold your hand and navigate you out of the darkness into the light.

— Vikas Dhar
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