$1 Billion Illegal Website Builder Busted

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingOct 03, 2013

A drug website? Now that's not a very common method of drug distribution, but this particular site generated more than $1 billion. FBI agents found him in the science fiction section of a small San Francisco public library branch, chatting online.

Ross William Ulbricht, a 29-year-old young man, first known as “Altoid” and then changed to “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was on his laptop in a quiet San Francisco library when 6 FBI agents burst in to bust him.

Ulbricht was chatting with a cooperating witness about the vast black market bazaar that is believed to have brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services. Due to the cooperating witness, the FBI pinpointed his location and arrested him, and shut down the website immediately.

This website was mainly operated in Maryland, and New York and Ulbricht have been charged in New York and Maryland federal courts. He is facing allegations of making millions of dollars using the secret Silk Road website and also for a failed murder-for-hire scheme.

Ulbricht has not entered pleas to any of his charges. He is using a Public Defender, which is not a wise decision because public defenders do not have half as many resources and skills as private Federal Criminal Attorneys have.

His New York charges consist of him being the mastermind of the Silk Road Website, where users could browse anonymously through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like “Cannabis,” ”Psychedelics,” and “Stimulants.”

His Maryland charges consist of him allegedly attempting to hire someone for the torture and then the murder of an employee, fearing that he would blow his cover. The someone he was trying to hire was an undercover agent who sent Ulbricht fake pictures of the employee being tortured. According to the indictment and reports, Ulbricht wired the secret agent $80,000.

Ulbricht was under a two-year investigation. It all started in 2011 when FBI agents figured out that Ulbricht was “Altoid,” a person who was marketing Silk Road on other drug-related websites the FBI was watching. From there, investigators began to monitor Ulbricht's online behavior closely. At the time, Ulbricht lived with two roommates in an average place, paying $1000.00 per month.

Investigators then started connecting Ulbricht to Silk Road by monitoring his email and picking up on slipups, including using his real name to ask a programmers' website a highly technical question about connecting to remote sites like Silk Road. The final draw was when Ulbricht ordered a fake identification card using a different name but the same birth date and his photograph.

According to the indictment, there were nearly 1 million registered users on the Silk Road site from the United States, Germany, Russia, Australia, and elsewhere around the globe. The site has generated an estimated $1.2 billion since 2011 and collected $80 million by charging an 8 to 15 percent commission on each sale. He faces life in federal prison if convicted of all the charges.