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Jury convicts owner, operator of Silk Road website
Following a four-week trial, A California man was found guilty Wednesday in New York on all seven counts in connection with his operation and ownership of Silk Road, a hidden website designed to enable its users to buy and sell illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services anonymously and beyond the reach of law enforcement. The trial caps an extensive probe by multiple local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Ross William Ulbricht, 30, of San Francisco, created Silk Road in approximately January 2011, and owned and operated the underground website until it was shut down by law enforcement authorities in October 2013. Silk Road emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet, serving as a sprawling black-market bazaar where unlawful goods and services, including illegal drugs of virtually all varieties, were bought and sold regularly by the site’s users. While in operation, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services to well over a hundred thousand buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from the unlawful transactions. Ulbricht is scheduled to be sentenced on May 15, 2015.
Ulbricht deliberately operated Silk Road as an online criminal marketplace intended to enable its users to buy and sell drugs and other illegal goods and services anonymously, according to ICE. Ulbricht sought to anonymize transactions on Silk Road in two principal ways. First, he operated Silk Road on what is known as “The Onion Router,” or “Tor” network, a special network of computers on the Internet, distributed around the world, designed to conceal the true IP addresses of the computers on the network and thereby the identities of the networks’ users. Second, he designed Silk Road to include a Bitcoin-based payment system that served to facilitate the illegal commerce conducted on the site, including by concealing the identities and locations of the users transmitting and receiving funds through the site.
The vast majority of items for sale on Silk Road were illegal drugs, which were openly advertised as such on the site. As of Sept. 23, 2013, Silk Road had nearly 13,000 listings for controlled substances From November 2011 to September 2013, law enforcement agents made more than 60 individual undercover purchases of controlled substances from Silk Road vendors. These purchases included heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD, among other illegal drugs, and were filled by vendors believed to be located in more than ten different countries, including the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Austria and France.
In addition to illegal narcotics, other illicit goods and services were openly bought and sold on Silk Road as well. For example, as of Sept. 23, 2013, there were: 159 listings under the category “Services,” most of which offered computer hacking services, such as a listing by a vendor offering to hack into social networking accounts of the customer’s choosing; 801 listings under the category “Digital goods,” including malicious software, hacked accounts at various online services, and pirated media content; and 169 listings under the category “Forgeries,” including offers to produce fake driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards, utility bills, credit card statements, car insurance records, and other forms of false identification documents.
Using the online moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts,” or “DPR,” Ulbricht controlled and oversaw every aspect of Silk Road, and managed a staff of paid, online administrators and computer programmers who assisted with the day-to-day operation of the site. Through his ownership and operation of Silk Road, Ulbricht reaped commissions worth over $13 million generated from the illicit sales conducted through the site. He also demonstrated a willingness to use violence to protect his criminal enterprise and the anonymity of its users. He even solicited six murders-for-hire in connection with operating the site, although there is no evidence that these murders were actually carried out.