FBI Shuts Down Silk Road

Ross Ulbricht is charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy

The seal of the F.B.I.
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The seal of the F.B.I.
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The FBI has shut down Silk Road, a hard-to-find e-commerce site on the "Deep Web" that allegedly trafficked in drugs, guns, computer-hacking, money-laundering and even murder-for-hire. The site has operated for two and a half years as a "sprawling black-market bazaar." According to the New York Times, U.S. attorneys arrested the website's owner, Ross William "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht, for generating more than $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million in commissions through distributing "hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services" to more than 100,000 online buyers.

Silk Road: Inside the 21st-Century Drug Bazaar

TechCrunch calls Silk Road "the Amazon of illegal things." According to the FBI, Ulbricht, 29, has a physics degree from the University of Texas and attended engineering graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania; he apparently lived in San Francisco while running Silk Road. He's charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy and was, according to the Justice Department, arrested in San Francisco. From the time it opened in September 2011, Silk Road operated on an Internet network known as "Tor," which conceals the IP addresses of its users' computers.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court in New York, FBI agent Christopher Tarbell described 13,000 drug listings on Silk Road last month, including cannibas, ecstasy, prescriptions, psychedelics and stimulants, and others for firearms, anonymous bank accounts and hit men. One ad declared: "HIGH QUALITY #4 HEROIN ALL ROCK." Users paid with Bitcoins, an anonymous form of electronic currency widely used online. The FBI reportedly seized $3.6 million in Bitcoins after agents made 100 drug purchases through the website.

The FBI also accuses Ulbricht of attempting to solicit a murder-for-hire contract against a Silk Road user who intended to extort him. "FriendlyChemist" allegedly threatened to publish the site's user names and addresses unless Ulbricht paid $500,000. According to court documents, Ulbricht wrote to "redandwhite": "In my eyes, FriendlyChemist is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was executed." He noted the man lived in British Columbia, Canada, with a wife and three kids, and added: "Let me know if it would be helpful to have his full address." Silk Road had almost 1 million registered users as of July.