If you are able to get the laptop working and the government later traces it to you there will be nothing you can do to defend yourself. You cannot say you did not know it was stolen, if it really is a stolen item, because you made the decision to format in order to use it. That will prove you knew it was likely a stolen laptop. It's up to you whether to take that chance.
Another thing to consider. What if it has Lojack for laptops? If it does, formatting will not disable Lojack.
Having said all that, we here at Bleeping Computer cannot answer your questions nor will we help you to continue using a laptop that could be stolen.
We especially don't need the US Government on our case if we did help you.
Bleeping Computer rules, which are here http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/forum-rules/
No subject matter will be allowed whose purpose is to defeat existing copyright or security measures. If a user persists and/or the activity is obviously illegal the staff reserves the right to remove such content and/or ban the user. This would also mean encouraging the use or continued use of pirated software is not permitted, and subject to the same consequences.
This topic is closed.
Since you now say you assume it was lost, consider this: if it was lost and sold by someone who found it it's still theft since the finder did not turn it over to the police if he could not track down the owner.
And for the record, even if you didn't know it was stolen you can still be charged with possession of stolen property, especially if something like the Treasury Dept appears on boot up and asks for a password. If you did not know it was stolen when you got it something like that should set off warning bells for you.
Edited by Queen-Evie, 17 April 2014 - 11:30 PM.