back to article Talk about making a rod for your own back: Pot dealer's seized €54m Bitcoins up in smoke after keys thrown out with fishing gear

A small-time criminal's seized €54m Bitcoin fortune has been lost – after the digital keys to unlock the loot were, get this, accidentally thrown away. Between 2011 and 2012, Dublin-based pot dealer and one-time award-winning beekeeper Clifton Collins splashed a bit of cash from his whacky-baccy enterprise on thousands of …

  1. SW10
    Facepalm

    Daft or smart?

    “Worried about security, I’ve realised I ne account might be too easy to access by heartless criminals, so I’ll spread my stash across twelve. And note all my passwords down on this one piece of paper.”

    Surely smarter than that?

    1. Hubert Cumberdale

      Re: Daft or smart?

      Maybe he is... maybe he's lying and he had a backup. But if they know which wallets they're stored in, it'll be obvious if he gets into them again. Which is a shame. Reminds me of this guy.

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Daft or smart?

        He was clever enough to open 12 Bitcoins wallets, which means that he is at ease with a computer and the administrative tasks that involve opening a wallet, buying and dealing bitcoin etc... This guy was no fool.

        In my opinion he would also have been clever enough to have those kept safely backed up on a USB stick of which only he knows the whereabouts. Not to difficult for him to do and also impossible for the police to prove that he didn't.

        Fishing gear usually get wet, so hiding a piece of paper in a wet environment does not sound like a very good idea, unless of course it was intentionally a "red herring", ( pun intended).... Hell he could have even scribbled down a load of bollocks and intentionally wet it so it appeared as though it had been destroyed, hence creating a preformed alibi.

        1. Hubert Cumberdale

          Re: Daft or smart?

          Yes, but, as noted, the point is that even if he did, he wouldn't be able to use the wallets without detection! They'd be right up his arse as soon as the money moved, and they'd be tracking it down. Bear in mind that they would probably be willing to spend an awful lot on getting it back (e.g. compromising his computers through espionage-like means) because the (literal) pay-off would be huge for them. If they've any sense, they'll have something set up to automatically alert them to any activity on the wallets.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Daft or smart?

            So you first move to a country without an extradition treaty. You'd pretty much have to stay there for the rest of your life, but with tens of millions of dollars you'd be comfortable at least!

      2. JulieM Silver badge

        Re: Daft or smart?

        I think this is just a new variant on an old urban legend: the criminal serves their sentence quietly, believing they have enough loot stashed safely away beyond the reach of the Authorities to set themself up a new life after prison; only to find that it has been destroyed, become inaccessible or otherwise rendered worthless in the meantime by circumstances beyond their control.

        Cash being thrown away with someone's personal effects is the usual story; but other variants include buried treasure being dug up by the local wildlife or covered by a new housing estate, and currencies losing value when the issuing country gets involved in a war.

        The important things all these stories have in common are, a not-thoroughly-despicable criminal who was smart enough to amass a fortune but not smart enough to avoid getting caught; and their assets being lost in a supremely unlikely way which prevents the Authorities from being unable to seize them.

        And it hardly even matters whether it's true or not about the €50M. Pot-smoking is a social activity, and a story like that ought to be good for a free meal anytime it gets told in company. Or at least it would, if not for the fact that most weed smokers I've met haven't two ha'pennies to rub together .....

        1. ma1010 Silver badge

          Re: Daft or smart?

          Reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode. These guys stole an armored car full of gold bullion. To escape prison, they drove to this cave in the desert and went into suspended animation for 100 years. In the end the one surviving thief is offering a contemporary fellow a gold bar for a drink of water, but then dies. The fellow looks at the gold and wonders why, when people can make all the gold they want, this person seemed to think it was worth something.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Daft or smart?

          1965 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Job_%28film%29

          Sees your housing estate, and raises you a police station, whose pleasant-sounding yard includes the tree that the loot was stashed in.

          Similarly:

          1999 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Streak_%28film%29

          Minus the tree and Sid James and plus murders, so not really a remake.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: Daft or smart?

            And here's one: "Drowned Hopes" by Donald E. Westlake.

            https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005UK7TYA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

            "Long ago, Tom buried $700,000, and now he needs help digging it up. While he was inside, the government dammed a nearby river, creating a reservoir and putting fifty feet of water on top of his money."

            One obvious and awful solution needs to be avoided!

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              Re: Daft or smart?

              good stories for Phishing

        3. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Daft or smart?

          Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

          Great movie.

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: Daft or smart?

            I saw that one and found it very, very frightening

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Daft or smart?

      Sounds a bit fishy to me

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Daft or smart?

      "Surely smarter than that?"

      Not necessarily.

      But are the Gardai and he really and absolutely sure the landlord didn't keep the paper?

    4. e^iπ+1=0

      Re: Daft or smart?

      Fork the coins.

  2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    "Err, I lost them"

    Yeah, right.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So if the new owners cannot access them....

    can anyone else? and will bitcoin pay any attention if they do

    Irish Criminal Assets Bureau would have been smart to offer half the sale price to anyone who could hack it for them before someone takes 100%

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: So if the new owners cannot access them....

      If they have the wallet.dat files then they can pound away on them day and night until they crack the password. Maybe he's been super-smart and used 20 character random strings or maybe he hasn't.

      Perhaps the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau offer a bounty - crack the code and get a % - probably more profitable than mining bitcoins.

  4. Sam Paton

    Oh those bitcoin, yeah I’ve definitely lost them officer sorry.

    No, officer, absolutely no possibility I was smart enough to distribute my coins but dumb enough to store my private keys in a single place, in my house. That I run a criminal enterprise from.

    Of course I’d never wait you out and access them later. What do you think I am, a liar AND a criminal. Jeez

    I’d never lie to you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lying like that would be pointless. Bitcoins are anonymous, but they're not untraceable. To the contrary, by definition, everybody knows all transactions. So once a wallet is known to law enforcement, it becomes impossible to use it without them noticing at once.

      1. elwe

        And what exactly are the law going to do if he waits for release, goes to a non extradition country and uses some of the bit coin to buy citizenship? They will know he accessed them, but there will be nothing they can do about it.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "absolutely no possibility I was smart enough to distribute my coins but dumb enough to store my private keys in a single place, in my house"

      There's nothing to stop him being smart in one aspect only. Remember he was also dumb enough to get caught.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I have some bit coins"

      Turns out they were the £3 worth of commemorative novelty tacky coins.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Were it a real country, could not the courts act?

    Haven't the BitCoin peoplle already screwed themselves? Remember when some coins were stolen and the changes thr protocol to protect those coins? What would stop the FBI from showing to a court that coins in wallet X once belingef to perp and from the chain they are unspent, so the court orders the protocol to mark those coins as unusable and rhr miners add a new wallet owned by the gov with the coins? It is a protocol afterall and even the simpons know it.

    1. Solarflare

      Re: Were it a real country, could not the courts act?

      Remember when some coins were stolen and the changes thr protocol to protect those coins?

      I am by no means an expert, but you seem to have really misunderstood what happened way back when. As far as I understand it, bitcoin essentially forked the project and rolled everything back, putting everything back where it was ~2 days prior. All the trades and things that were legit needed to be done again, the coins that had been snaffled were recovered in that they were reset back to the place that they were previously.

      To do the same here, things would need to be rolled back by years. Even then, all that would achieve is undoing the 500 bitcoin to 12 separate accounts transaction and would put them all in his original one. Assuming the key to that was also on the same piece of paper, all that would have been done is that the bitcoins are all together, though still inaccessable and useless. Oh, and also that every transaction over the last however many years would have been voided for every person who uses bitcoin...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Were it a real country, could not the courts act?

        I am not into cat skinning, but if it is bitcoins all you need to "agree" that there is a tx from the "lost" wallet into a new wallet and bake that into the chain. That is over simplifying things and you can gloss over the fact that the transaction isn't signed.

        The point is that if you agree and 50.000001% of miners do then it can happen. Of course some might fork off and not agree but it is still possible.

        Given that most debt recover services rarely get a high % you could apportion 50% to the miners, just to get things rolling. They are greedy bastards after all, Winner mine all.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Were it a real country, could not the courts act?

        I disagree, as there are three main components here, the data, the algorithms and the protocol. And of these the protocol is the least mutable. All is needed is a big enough stick.

  6. AMBxx Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Riddle me this

    I'm not a bitcoin person, so don't really understand it all, so probably a daft question:

    If there's a finite amount of bitcoin due to the way it's 'mined', doesn't that mean that eventually it will all be lost?

    Paris Hilton cos she probably doesn't understand this either.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Riddle me this

      They expand the pool from time to time to suck in more err suckers.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: Riddle me this

        But each bitcoin mined has needed slightly more electricity to generate than the previous one. Eventually the sun will be harnessed to do nothing more than generate bitcoin!

        1. User McUser

          Re: Riddle me this

          A Type-II bitcoin rig? Not sure that's what Kardashev had in mind...

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Riddle me this

      There's a fixed number ( I think it's 21 million, but I might be wrong ), eventually all will be mined. A long time after that, they will presumably mostly be lost.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Riddle me this

        They expand the pool from time to time to suck in more err suckers.

        There's a fixed number ( I think it's 21 million, but I might be wrong )

        So whose right?

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: Riddle me this

          There's a fixed number totally available but they only get released every so often ( the algorithm makes it average something like one every two days or something like that ).

  7. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    Small time criminal?

    Add to that award winning bee keeper and bitcoin entrepreneur.

  8. Persona Silver badge

    It doesn't work like that.

    "Garda officers said they were hopeful advances in technology would one day enable them to access the Bitcoin so it could be sold"

    If technology advances to permit that it also makes them worthless.

    1. Pascal

      Re: It doesn't work like that.

      "Once the money counterfeiting printers are good enough to print fake money that is 100% undistinguishable from real money, we'll but one of those printers and print the 50 millions and launder it!"

      No flaw in that logic right? :)

  9. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "making a rod for your own back"

    Or maybe even getting hoist with your own petard.

  10. cbars

    Beekeeper: hippy weed smoker, no harm

    Collared for possession: still fits

    Was sitting on 50million quid and was living in rented accommodation still dolling out drugs....? Idiot.

    Bin that shit, get a good cover story for where the original money came from, pay the tax man and buy a fucking mansion!!!

    Hardly a forward thinker, let alone criminal mastermind. Probably bragged about his I'll gotten gains and the cops thought he was an easy target to make up the budget shortfall.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      If you've got £50m, why take the risk of personally selling drugs?

      Sounds like he's a moron who got very lucky and then managed to screw it up through his own incomptence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or bought the "bit coin" off a mate and they were blank drives? Hmmm I guss any software wouls still notice they were fake if booted up. Depends how much of a ruse the mate played.

      2. MrDamage

        Same reason I suppose why rich celebs get busted shoplifting. It's not about the money, but the thrill of it.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Very similar to the Ross Ulbricht story

    3. MJB7 Silver badge

      "sitting on 50million quid"

      He didn't make £50M from drug dealing; he made £50M from having bought bitcoin early. When he went inside (and he was living in rented accommodation) they were worth quite a lot less. Also, buying a house needs money from a verifiable source; you can't just turn up with an account containing €100,000 - you have to be able to show where you got that money from.

      1. cbars

        Re: "sitting on 50million quid"

        No one said he did...

        The way I read the article is that he was collared *after* a substantial increase in his bitcoin value. Enough that he split it into 12 accounts and his the keys. This action should have indicated it was time to stop the dealing and work on getting that money out/laundered.

        Bitcoin is verifiable provided you a) are above suspicion on the original investment, b) declare it and pay your tax.

        Hence my comment

  11. jayAyyyy

    And that's exactly

    What I'd tell the police

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: And that's exactly

      But you ( or any sensible person ) would stop selling weed once you realised your bitcoin collection was worth millions and you'd spend your time finding ways to secure it and either launder or justify it.

      If you were stupid enough to not do that then you're probably also stupid enough to hide all your keys in the same place.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have any members of the Garda suddenly retired and are now living in the Cayman Islands ?

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Happy

      Would make a great film 'The Guard 2'.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        or [The Guard, Gone Phishing]

  13. mark l 2 Silver badge

    It fails to mention that if there was really a piece of paper with the keys on it in his fishing gear, the Garda failed to spot and seize this when they did a search of the perps premises. So either the Garda have to admit they didn't do a thorough search and let it go or they call BS on this guy that it was hidden there as they would have found it.

    But I guess this becomes the same as the law that requires people to hand over encryption keys to any encrypted files. If you defence is that it was written down and you didnt know the key from memory, how the the police proof that isn’t the case? I would be very uncomfortable with locking people up for not providing encryption keys if they genuinely did not know them and failures of the police to do a full search could actually cause innocent people to be jailed.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      "if there was really a piece of paper with the keys on it in his fishing gear, the Garda failed to spot and seize this when they did a search of the perps premises."

      Why would they have been looking for a bit of paper with some numbers on? I doubt he wrote "Keys to the bitcoin accounts where I keep my ill-gotten gains" across the top. If he was smart (which seems unlikely at this point), he might have written them in such a way as to look like the weights of fish he'd caught, or phone numbers etc.

      Either way, the police were looking for evidence of drug dealing, so as long as the paper didn't look like a list of people he sold drugs to, then they wouldn't have looked twice at it, even if they had found a single sheet of paper inside a fishing rod box.

      1. MrDamage

        Not to mention, he could have made the passwords all numerical, so it could be passed off as GPS coordinates for prime fishing spots. He could also have made the passwords like "south end of lake by the pier".

      2. e^iπ+1=0

        Photograph the evidence ffs

        Must be cheap enough these days to just photograph everything before chucking the original items.

    2. Mark 65

      Roll up the paper and insert into one of the rods - multi-part rods effectively have a receiving whole on the end top of each receiving pole. Doubt they'd be looking into such a place for pot so would have missed it.

      My money is still on this being BS though.

  14. JulieM Silver badge

    From the article

    "Garda officers said they were hopeful advances in technology would one day enable them to access the Bitcoin so it could be sold."
    Surely if there was an advance in technology that would let the forces of Law and Order access other people's cryptocurrency wallets, then by definition that advance would let anyone access other people's cryptocurrency wallets?

    I'm not sure that's really what they want .....

    I suppose this shows cryptocurrencies are secure after a certain fashion: you can make your own money worthless to anyone else, with much less effort than shredding banknotes, melting down coins or even just buying something expensive that depreciates rapidly.

    And being fifty meg down but the Old Bill not getting their hands on a penny of it -- that's got to be worth a few free dinners.

    1. Persona Silver badge

      Re: From the article

      Being jailed for five years for drug offences has already got him quite a few "free" dinners. It's probably just a matter of time before he gets a stretch more.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    He must know where the keys are

    A couple of points:

    From what I understand, the $50M worth of bitcoins aren't all proceeds of crime. He doesn't owe all that money to the police/courts does he?

    Secondy, and I think this is more relevant, if I were sent to prison knowing that I'm not going to pay my rent and there's a piece of paper literally worth millions of euros sitting in a fishing rod at home, I'd make damn sure someone got it for me, even if that means the police, BEFORE it gets chucked out. It's the first bloody thing I'd think of, after being locked up. The fact that this clearly didn't happen means that either the whole story he spun about the fishing rod is false, and/or the codes are safely kept elsewhere.

    Or am I missing something?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: He must know where the keys are

      Or he's a multi-millionaire that is needlessly risking his freedom selling drugs when he has no financial motivation to do so.

      I'm betting on him just being a moron.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: He must know where the keys are

        Or he's a multi-millionaire that is needlessly risking his freedom selling drugs when he has no financial motivation to do so.

        Doesn't that describe most drug barons? It could equally be applied to CxO's of most large companies etc.

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: He must know where the keys are

          Drug barons ( I assume you mean distributors ) aren't selling quarter oz's from their bedsit so they're insulated from a random buy and bust. In that situation it isn't insane to keep trading ( so far as there is any sanity to working with £50m, I wouldn't ).

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: He must know where the keys are

      "From what I understand, the $50M worth of bitcoins aren't all proceeds of crime. He doesn't owe all that money to the police/courts does he?"

      Good question. AIUI the original investment was from the proceeds of crime. It would be a function of Irish law as to whether he'd have been able to keep the gains on the Bitcoin value.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: He must know where the keys are

        Well I am not entirely sure. Proceeds of crime requires (IIRC) proof that either the accused was aware that the money was from illegal sources or that the accused was making the money from illegal sources.

        Did they actually find proof he mined the bitcoin using equipment purchased with proceeds of crime?

    3. Booty003

      Re: He must know where the keys are

      I agree, sounds too fishy to me....

      Like something from the pages of The Sunday Sport.....

  17. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    You can't be too careful!

    "He decided to spread his wealth across 12 new accounts and transferred exactly 500 Bitcoin, worth almost €4.5m, into each of them."

    ...and split those wallets across the MtGox and Quadriga exchanges, for added security...

  18. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    must have taken ages...

    to trawl the pun database to fish that headline out. It certainly piked my interest!

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