It's the end of the Silk Road, the online black market that let users complete illegal transactions since 2011. Silk Road, aka the Amazon.com of illegal drugs, was shut down by the FBI this week, and its leader, who goes by Dread Pirate Roberts (a solid Princess Bride reference), was arrested. Dread Pirate Roberts's real name is Ross William Ulbricht, and he's a 29-year-old entrepreneur living in San Francisco. More than a drug-trade facilitator, Ulbricht is also accused by the Feds of paying hit men to murder a blackmailer, as well as a witness who would leak his identity to the authorities. As details come out, the story gets crazier.
Before the FBI could arrest the operator of Silk Road, it had to figure out who he was. Only known as Dread Pirate Roberts, Ulbricht had used sophisticated encryption to avoid detection. He gave an interview with Forbes in August, saying, "I am proud of what I do," while still maintaining his anonymity. In the complaint against him, the government says it seized a package at the Canadian border that had nine different fake IDs. All had a different name with Ulbricht's face. But the fatal flaw came when he used his personal email address and name to get tech support for the site. Eventually Ulbricht was arrested in the science fiction section of a San Francisco public library.
While the Silk Road, which did more than $1.2 billion in revenue, according to the FBI, was known for providing heroin and LSD, the story really gets dark with its hit-man twist. Reportedly, users could purchase illegal guns and murder services, and the FBI claims Ulbricht did just that. The complaint reads:
DPR's private-message communications from March and April 2013 reveal at least one occasion when solicited a murder-for-hire of a certain Silk Road user, who was attempting to extort money from DPR at the time, based on a threat to release the identities of thousands of Silk Road users.
The complaint includes the messages, in which Ulbricht (aka DPR) said he once had a clean hit done for $80,000. For this latest one, he settled on $150,000. According to the government:
Several hours later on March 31, 2013, redandwhite wrote back: received the payment. . . . We know where he is. He'll be grabbed tonight. I'll update you."
Approximately 24 hours later, redandwhite updated DPR, stating: "Your problem has been taken care of. . . . Rest easy though, because he won't be blackmailing anyone again. Ever."
He might not be blackmailed again, but I doubt Ulbricht is resting easy.