The popular online illicit marketplace “Silk Road” has been shut down after federal agents alleged the owner used the site as a way to advertise illegal services, and the community was used by hit men and drug dealers, as a means to buy, sell and distribute contraband via the internet.
On Oct. 2, the FBI shut down the website and arrested owner Ross Ulbricht, 29, of San Francisco, who also went by the aliases “Dread Pirate Roberts” and “DPR,” capping a two-year investigation, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to Justice officials, Ulbricht is charged with soliciting murder-for-hire, engaging in money laundering and computer hacking. As part of the investigation, the government seized 26,000 bitcoins, a digital currency that has no association with a national government and is used for online transactions.
“Silk Road users were required to create an account and a username,” according to court documents. “They were instructed to use aliases as their username and never to disclose their true name.”
According to court documents, Ulbricht collected a fee for each transaction. He communicated with “Silk Road” users through written communication, including welcome messages, updates on changes to “Silk Road” and alerts or apologies when the website was malfunctioning.
Following the arrests, the website was replaced with the message: “THIS HIDDEN SITE HAS BEEN SEIZED by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The underground outlet for heroin and cocaine dealers was launched in Feb. 2011 and quickly became an Internet phenomenon. By March of this year, the underground website had 10,000 products for sale, 70 percent of which were drugs. There were 340 different drugs available for purchase, including heroin, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and cannabis.
Legal goods were also sold on “Silk Road” such as art, apparel, books and jewelry, to help the marketplace appear like a legal site.
Court documents showed that from February 2012 to this July, $15 million in transactions were made on the site.
In April 2012, federal agents in Maryland went undercover and began communicating with Ulbricht about selling illegal drugs on Silk Road, a conversation that lasted for nearly a year, until his arrest.
If convicted, Ulbricht could face a maximum of 40 years imprisonment for drug distribution conspiracy, a maximum of 30 years imprisonment for attempted witness murder and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.