Connect to the wifi and check your wallet app. Today we are talking about the crooked connections to cryptocurrency.
In a new age of electronic economics, one brand has made a lot of noise- Bitcoin. As early as 2009, when it was created, people began to stockpile the stuff. It was the first decentralized digital currency, and it has inspired thousands to risk this uncharted financial frontier with hopes of discovering a quick way to score some real-world cash from encrypted accounts. Then, just last year the cryptocurrency trend exploded onto Wall Street and ever since people have been trying to take advantage of the hype before the well runs dry. Suddenly anyone with a little extra scratch has become a cyber stockbroker.
While some have tried to cash in just to see if they can hit the crypto-lotto, others have become Bitcoin millionaires. But some of those people were actually gathering those funds through illicit means, like fentanyl trafficking.
Bitcoin for Beginners
For many of us, the whole Bitcoin thing is still a bit confusing. If some of these explanations seem oversimplified for anyone currently obsessed with cryptography, “block time” or whatever a “Merkle tree” is… I’m sorry, I guess.
Bitcoin was originally designed as being a truly free-market currency. This means without any company, country or central bank controlling its value or supply. Bitcoin takes no physical form, but actually only exists as a virtual token. Transactions are recorded in an open public ledger known as a blockchain. This peer-to-peer network avoids many risks of having a central database. But, while the transactions are typically public, the Bitcoin ownership is not.
The digital tokens are stored in a digital wallet that is only identified by a series of numbers and letters. A lot of times people using the digital wallet remain anonymous because they don’t have to provide any personal information to set up their accounts.
Because of all the freedom of Bitcoin, along with its anonymity, it became extremely useful for those involved with the Dark Web. You can read plenty more on that subject, but essentially is it another layer of the internet criminals use for conducting illicit business. One site from the Dark Web would be the infamous Silk Road.
The Future of Fentanyl Financing
Authorities say that bitcoin has helped create a new generation of criminals who buy and sell drugs online. It has become much easier for drug dealers to cover their tracks with cryptocurrencies.
Which of course leads us to fentanyl trafficking. For a long time the majority of drugs sold on the Dark Web were:
However, the sale of fentanyl is rising rapidly. Considering most fentanyl is sold online from dealers overseas, it makes a lot of sense that traffickers would rely heavily on digital money. Greg Nevano, the Deputy Assistant Director of Homeland Security Investigations states,
“You can order illicit opioids right online and have them delivered right to the comfort of your living room.”
According to CDC data, nearly 20,000 people died after overdosing on fentanyl in 2016. This is a huge contributing factor to one of the worst drug epidemics in American history.
For example, undercover investigators working for a Senate committee led by Ohio Republican Rob Portman talk about an e-mail from a fentanyl dealer with an important message for potential buyers. The fentanyl trafficker states:
“We have switched to bitcoin payments only. Now you will enjoy a 10 percent less price tag on all products,”
The email also points out:
“Good part is that paying by bitcoin you can order as much as you like with no limit.”
Ohio is suffering from one of the highest rates of fentanyl overdose deaths in the country. This particular investigation was part of a yearlong inquiry into the international supply chain that funnels fentanyl from China to homes across America. Earlier this year, the committee released a report which tracked activity on six websites offering fentanyl. That report indicated:
In each of these cases, the sites list bitcoin as the preferred method of payment. Portman himself adds,
“Because it’s anonymous, it’s the currency of choice for these drug traffickers,”
Just last fall the Justice Department shut down another illicit online marketplace called AlphaBay. In this case, the Justice Department seized around 144,000 Bitcoins, which comes out to around $48 million.
Cracking Down on Cryptocurrency
Lawmakers in Washington have come to the conclusion that cracking down on cryptocurrency is essential in order to stop the flow of fentanyl coming into the United States. Thankfully, this is one thing that officials from both sides of the aisle agree must be addressed.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California have presented a bipartisan bill that would create explicit requirements for digital currencies to comply with laws against money laundering. Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a task force earlier this year to specifically target fentanyl sales online.
Can We Blame the Crypto?
Meanwhile, many advocates for cryptocurrencies are not happy about these new campaigns. Perianne Boring, president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, is one person who fights on behalf of Bitcoin, stating:
“Blaming bitcoin for this crisis would make as much sense as blaming the internet or cars that drug traffickers have to use.”
Boring’s organization is trying to help. They are part of the Blockchain Alliance, working with more than two dozen companies to help authorities combat crime.
Industry groups also reject the claim that cryptocurrency is anonymous and untraceable. They say Bitcoin users are “pseudononymous” because buying Bitcoin does require real money. Advocates insist that most users convert real cash through exchangers that do actually collect personal information. They also argue that in order to spend that Bitcoin, users will have to convert it back to real money, and that’s where law enforcement can intercept illegal operators.
Crypto-advocates also point out that cryptocurrency exchangers in the United States are also subject to federal reporting requirements and laws against money laundering. Earlier this year an industry analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies found:
- Less than 1 percent of bitcoin is used for illegal purposes.
- Almost all of the illicit activity came from transactions on the dark web
However, the report also goes into detail about ways criminals can avoid regulated currency exchangers altogether. This includes using foreign converters or “mixing” sites that allow users to swap Bitcoin.
Meanwhile, new cryptocurrencies that are even harder to trace are gaining in popularity. So it would seem that as soon as the system catches up to a new digital trend, someone creates a copy and the cycle starts all over.
So can Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies expect to be subject to new attempts at strict regulation? If so, what kind of regulations should be put in place to track digital transactions and prevent further abuse for illicit profits?
The evolution of the internet has changed how illicit drug markets work. The fight against drug trafficking is more complex than ever before, and strategies for facing drug dealing, drug use, and addiction have to evolve, too. This also means providing innovative and cutting-edge treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.
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Author: Justin Mckibben
We have seen the cost of the ‘war on drugs’ in America. We have also seen the economy suffer, as the cost of living rises and the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ swells, accompanied by the whispers of crooked deals and executive injustices. Brokers breaking all the rules are like businessmen with bloody hands, and it seems like the stock in human life sinks under the weight of the almighty dollar.
It’s time the focus shifted from hunting down and demoralizing drug addicts, to showing the law goes both ways and CEO’s can become convicts too.
I personally don’t put too much stock in politicians these days, but this Bernie Sanders character is constantly being brought to my attention for having some pretty interesting points of view, and he just made a pretty powerful statement that got me thinking. The presidential candidate has had a sturdy track record of calling out the hypocrisy of the United States ‘war on drugs,’ along with the industrialized and overpopulated prisons, and the criminal justice system.
Most recently, he got my attention when he expressed his opinions on the imbalance and injustice we witness in America as far as punishing people for drugs, while allowing criminals of corporate corruption to continue leaching off the nations limping economy.
War on White-Collar Crime
Just last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced new plans to initiate a war on white-collar crime. The DOJ also pledged to finally prosecute those responsible for misconduct on Wall Street, which ultimately poured gas on the fire that created the 2008 financial crisis.
In a memo released last week the DOJ claimed it would pursue action that would hold both corporations and individual employees accountable for the crimes that drove the country into recession, setting new guidelines for addressing corporate crime.
But according to Senator Sanders, from Vermont, it’s a little late for that. And in all reality he may be more right than we think. The law would state that the statute of limitations has already expired for most of the misconduct that took place leading up to the recession back in 2008, which would mean it is not one of those ‘better late than never’ scenarios.
Those with white-collars could be facing stricter penalties, but how much stricter are we really talking? How much of a difference will this memo make? I guess only time will tell.
Sanders Standing Against Stigma
What I see from Sander’s reaction to this announcement is an attempt at exposing the true injustice created by stigma when it comes to drugs and drug addiction, and it speaks to how the general conception is changing in America. Again, a big point he makes is the way we have let executives slip under the radar, and it almost feels like its been hidden behind the smoke screen of drug wars. In a recent statement Sanders stated:
“One of the biggest mistakes our government made after the financial crisis was not prosecuting the people responsible for the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior that crashed our economy and ruined the lives of millions of Americans. It is not acceptable that many young people have criminal records for smoking marijuana, while the CEOs of banks whose illegal behavior helped destroy our economy do not.”
When I first read that, it was actually pretty inspiring stuff. To read a politician say that not only is it not fair, but it is NOT ACCEPTABLE for young people to have criminal records for low-level and non-violent drug offenses… criminal records that could determine the course of the rest of their futures and undermine their potential to contribute to changing the world… while those who deliberately, and ILLEGALLY, drained the life out of our American economy for millions upon billions to line their own pockets can shrug it off and wash their hands of it.
In the years since the climb of the financial crisis a number of banks have pleaded guilty to felony charges, which may seem fair, but individual bankers who were involved in the activity that caused it all have avoided all criminal prosecution. Nothing happened. They admitted to crimes that shook the economy of a country to its core, but don’t even get punished as bad as the average citizen for a minor possession charge?!
To put that in perspective, more than 2.2 million Americans have been put behind bars over the same course of time, and a bewildering percentage of them are serving time that will definitively alter their ability to have a quality of life once released for low-level felonies involving marijuana (which is quickly becoming legalized in several states) and other drugs.
Apparently this isn’t the first time Sanders has took a stand against the drug laws and the way we have addressed drug use in America. Last month he tweeted:
“There is no question that the war on drugs has been a failure.”
That is not too far removed from what current president Barack Obama himself has said about the way the system has worked against the American people who struggle with substance abuse instead of working to improve the lives of these individuals and ultimately their communities.
How can we as a country have any real claim to social consciousness if we aggressively persecute and marginalize people who are suffering from addiction, while allowing thieves in suits selling stocks to live lavishly off the profits of bankrupting the nation… which if you take the time to think about it actually contributes to poverty and desperation; circumstances often leading to drug addiction and other drug related issues.
In a system where the rich and vicious wolves of Wall Street tore apart our financial structure by breaking the laws that govern the worth of the dollar, we should turn our attention toward treating the addicts and the downtrodden instead of punishing them, and we should hold accountable those who orchestrated and profited from the recession that helped create the climate and the culture where addiction was able to thrive.
Addiction destroys lives, and while the war on drugs may have let us down in a lot of ways, there is always hope for a better future. Anyone can make a difference in their own life just by reaching out and getting the help they desperately need. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
In a recent (and rather popular) op-ed for the NY Times, a prior hedge fund trader describes how he replaced his drug and alcohol addiction with an addiction to money. “I was a giant fireball of greed,” Sam Polk writes. He chronicles his journey from degenerate Columbia student to highly compensated hedge-fund trader to his present position as the head of a nonprofit organization. When Polk was working on Wall Street, he became a self-proclaimed “wealth addict,” though he ultimately recognized he had a problem and quit. However, he debates that finance is still full of money junkies just like him.
Polk describes his addiction to alcohol, cocaine, Ritalin, ecstasy and pot during his college days and his choice to get sober with the help of a therapist during the time of an internship at Credit Suisse. He was working in hopes of getting rich someday and upon graduation he received a full time job as a trader at the Bank of America, where he quickly grew eager by how much money was obtainable. During his rise through positions at the Bank of America, his yearning for wealth and power that came with it increased. Finally, Polk moved on to a hedge fund, where he found himself dissatisfied when he earned “‘only’ $1.5 million” in his second year there.
When Polk speaks with his therapist, he is told that he might be using money the same way he used drugs; to make himself feel powerful (and fix that spiritual malady) and that it would be in his best interest to stop concentrating on money and focus on healing his inner wounds. He brushed off her suggestions until a meeting where one of his extremely wealthy bosses voiced a dislike to increased hedge-fund guidelines. After that, he began to see Wall Street differently. He writes “These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.”
Despite knowing that he had an issue with wealth addiction, it took him awhile to get clean. He finally left the hedge fund in 2010 following his boss declining his request to raise his bonus from $3.6 million to $8 million. After spending a year going through withdrawal and waking up in the middle of the night panicking about money, he had enough and went on to start a charity that aids poor families. Polk closes with the optimism that “we all confront our part in enabling wealth addicts to exert so much influence over our country,” the culture of which presently “supports and even lauds the addiction.”
In my opinion, wealth addiction can be just as dangerous as any other addiction. I see a lot of people get some recovery under their belt and then become obsessed with making money and becoming rich. I didn’t get sober to be that type of person and am glad I’m not. Money isn’t what is going to keep me happy today; I have an inner-peace that no amount of money can buy. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.