The owner and operator of the Silk Road website, on which illegal items such as drugs and hacked accounts were sold, has been arrested by the FBI.
Ross William Ulbricht, known on the site as the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, is due to be charged with the conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, money laundering and attempted murder.
The Silk Road appeared in 2011 and was only accessible using the anonymity-providing Tor network, which stopped tracing of users. The site also used the digital currency Bitcoin to conduct transactions without sharing personal data.
Illegal goods sold on the site included drugs, guns, hacked accounts, banking Trojans, child pornography and services including targeted hacks and hitmen offering to murder for a price.
Ulbricht’s arrest involved the FBI tracing the first mentions of ‘Silk Road’ back to a user called ‘Altoid’ on drug forum Shroomery, who was requesting that an “IT pro in the Bitcoin community” contact "rossulbricht at gmail dot com".
According to the FBI, Ulbricht also made several mistakes in his operation of the site, which left the necessary holes needed for the FBI to track him down to a flat in San Francisco, where he was known to his flatmates as ‘Josh’.
While Ulbricht – as both himself and under the persona of Roberts – had posted messages claiming that the Silk Road not only provided freedom but also removed the violence that often occurred in drug deals, and that he abhorred, Ulbricht himself was revealed to have ordered several hitmen to execute and torture individuals.
The FBI replaced the Silk Road's homepage following the seizure
One hitman that Ulbricht hired was an undercover FBI agent, who was requested by Ulbricht to “execute rather than torture” a former Silk Road employee who had stolen Bitcoins from Ulbricht and who had subsequently been arrested – by the very agent posing as the hitman Ulbricht planned to hire. Ulbricht paid the agent an advance of $40,000, followed by another $40,000 after the agent faked a photograph of the employee’s corpse, as Ulbricht requested.
The next hitman was hired to take care of a “liability” drug dealer, ‘Friendlychemist’, who had threatened to reveal details of another dealer ‘Redandwhite’. Ulbricht offered to put a bounty on Friendlychemist’s head, with Redandwhite saying they would give $150,000 for a “non-clean” assassination and $300,000 for a “clean” kill. The hit was apparently carried out, but the FBI has claimed that Ulbricht may have been scammed as no corresponding murder was found in the relevant area.
As well as Silk Road’s closure and Ulbricht’s arrest, the FBI has also seized 26,000 Bitcoins, with a value of around $3.6 billion. The closure may also have been responsible for a drop in Bitcoin value, from $129 to $140 per Bitcoin.