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Pennsylvania police, hunting for stolen laptops, say they stumbled on $40 million bitcoin scam

Bitcoin will start being used in U.S. market trades starting Dec. 11, 2017, according to Close Global Markets Inc. Here's everything you need to know about bitcoin. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Law enforcement in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County likely didn’t think they were dealing with a dark Web criminal pro when Theodore Price’s name first popped on their radar.

According to federal court documents, detectives from the Northampton Township Police Department north of Philadelphia began tracking the unemployed 30-year-old earlier this month after fielding a complaint from Price’s girlfriend’s parents about stolen laptops. But what started out as an alleged deadbeat boyfriend boosting valuables quickly accelerated into a wilder situation — and one with considerable more money involved.

By his own admission, Price told investigators he had stolen millions of dollars in bitcoin, the online currency powering illicit transactions online. The self-professed hacker claimed he’s pocketed nearly $40 million in online tender. If true it would make the bizarre case one of the biggest digital currency heists ever. And it may or may not be true. While a federal agent said in an affidavit that “the estimated value of Bitcoin obtained” fraudulently “is over $40 million,” the government withdrew, at least for the moment, a formal charge related to the bitcoin.

It all started when Janine and Steve Aversa returned home from vacation to their Bucks County home on July 4. According to an affidavit filed in federal court, the couple noticed two laptops were missing. They had an idea who was responsible. The court documents say Janine called her daughter Brittany Morton. The couple suspected Morton’s boyfriend, Price, was behind the robbery. Although he wasn’t allowed in her parents home, Morton admitted Price had been over while the Aversas were away.

The next day, Morton walked into the local police station with two...

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