Acquaintances, investigators and his defense lawyer all described Jimmy Zhong, the Athens, Ga.-based hacker who stole more than $3 billion worth of bitcoin from the dark web, as a guy who just wanted to be loved during recent interviews with CNBC.
Zhong was sentenced to just over one year in prison in April for stealing more than 50,000 bitcoin from a site on the dark web called the Silk Road in 2012. The cryptocurrency was worth $600,000 at the time he stole it but surged in value to $3.36 billion when the authorities finally caught up to him nearly a decade later. Zhong laundered the bitcoin in order to purchase real-estate assets, a boat and an extravagant trip for friends, according to CNBC, which revealed new details about the case in its recent documentary on the saga.
In an ironic turn of events in 2021, some of Zhong’s stolen bitcoin was stolen from him, and he reported the incident to the police, CNBC reported. Zhong’s call to the police ultimately helped investigators catch him.
The personal investigator who worked with Zhong to find the bitcoin stolen from him — which represented a small fraction of the amount he himself had stolen in 2012 — defended his character in her interview with CNBC. “Jimmy wanted to be loved. Jimmy wanted friends. Jimmy was a good guy,” Robin Martinelli said.
Even investigators looking into Jimmy’s crimes were sympathetic to his loneliness. Lieutenant Jody Thompson of the local property and financial crimes unit in Athens aided the IRS in their investigation of Zhong. He said that a side of Jimmy that people didn’t know about was “the loneliness of being that wealthy and not having anybody to share it with.”
A letter from a friend sent to Zhong after his sentencing said, “All he wants in this life is to love others, and for others to love him.” His defense lawyer, Michael Bachner, said Zhong did not know he was committing a federal crime when he stole the bitcoin. He described Zhong as a victim of bullying at school, and said his closest friend is his 13-year old dog.
Martinelli agreed. “He didn’t talk to his family that I knew of, so I don’t know of anybody he’d been close to but his dog, Chad,” she said.
Zhong is serving his sentence at the federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala.