At least one New Jersey law enforcement agency now has cryptocurrency in the bank.
On Monday, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said it is the first law enforcement agency in New Jersey to complete the forfeiture and liquidation of cryptocurrency assets, which were seized during an illegal narcotics distribution bust out of Long Branch three years ago.
In 2018, investigators executed search warrants at two Long Branch locations used by 39-year-old Giddel Gonzalez-Estrada, who has since pleaded guilty to drug charges in the case and is completing a 10-year prison sentence, officials said. Authorities seized three vehicles, about $32,000 in cash, 500 grams of cocaine, marijuana, a handgun and drug paraphernalia— and also found financial documents which revealed Gonzalez-Estrada had Ethereum, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin worth $57,000 in a U.S.-based exchange.
The cryptocurrency was frozen and seized after authorities determined it was the earnings from narcotic distribution activity, the prosecutor’s office said.
It’s now worth $198,000.
“I am proud of the work our investigators did uncovering these modern methods used to conceal assets derived from criminal activity in the cyberworld. This will serve as an effective template for the state law enforcement agencies in the cryptocurrency market – a place where we can expect proceeds from crimes to continue to be concealed,” Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said.
The net proceeds are being sent from Coinbase— a cryptocurrency exchange platform— to Monmouth County’s forfeiture account, authorities said. Law enforcement say forfeited funds are often spent on training, community programs, equipment upgrades and other initiatives.
The prosecutor’s office said it was also the first state agency in New Jersey to seize cryptocurrency in 2017, following the arrest of Terry Kou, 28, of Colts Neck. The cryptocurrency was initially valued at around $200,000, and is now worth more than $1.25 million, the prosecutor’s office said.
Though a volatile asset, the price of Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency, has increased about seven-fold over the past year, according to digital currency website Coindesk. One Bitcoin is currently worth over $54,000.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.