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British cops who were searching for a pot farm ended up uncovering a bitcoin mining operation that was illegally stealing electricity.
Officers from the West Midlands police say they found a huge bank of around 100 computers trying to create cryptocurrency at a site they had been told was a marijuana farm outside Birmingham on May 18.
The facility, which cops said they “understood to be a bitcoin mining operation,” had stolen thousands of dollars worth of electricity to operate the hunt for online riches, police said.
“It’s certainly not what we were expecting!” Sandwell police Sgt. Jennifer Griffin said in a statement. “It had all the hallmarks of a cannabis cultivation set-up and I believe it’s only the second such crypto mine we’ve encountered in the West Midlands.”
Police said they seized the mine’s IT equipment, but no arrests have been made.
So-called bitcoin “mining” involves using computers to solve complex math problems in an effort to be rewarded with freshly minted units of the popular cryptocurrency, which was worth around $36,000 per coin as of Friday.
The process, however, consumes a huge amount of power and has increasingly come under scrutiny for its impact on the environment.
Police said they suspected a cannabis farm in part because of the large amount of visible electrical wiring. They added that ventilation ducts were visible and a police drone picked up a major heat source from above, leading cops to investigate it as a pot farm.
“My understanding is that mining for cryptocurrency is not itself illegal but clearly abstracting electricity from the mains supply to power it is,” Griffin said.
“We’ve seized the equipment and will be looking into permanently seizing it under the Proceeds of Crime Act,” she said. “No one was at the unit at the time of the warrant and no arrests have been made — but we’ll be making enquiries with the unit’s owner.”
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