It was an online black market that had achieved mainstream notoriety: Silk Road, where anyone with enough Bitcoin could anonymously purchase drugs and other contraband. Since its inception in early 2011, the Website reportedly made millions per year off hundreds of thousands of transactions.
That notoriety brought Silk Road a whole lot of attention from law enforcement, and the FBI finally shut the site down Oct. 2. In the process they arrested a man named Ross Ulbricht, whom they accuse of running Silk Road under the online moniker Dread Pirate Roberts.
In addition to money laundering and drug trafficking, the government is also accusing Ulbricht of attempting to arrange the murder of a Silk Road user who was “threatening to release the identities of thousands of users of the site,” according to the criminal complaint filed before the Southern District of New York (PDF).
That same complaint described Silk Road as the “most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today,” used to distribute “hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to well over a hundred thousand buyers.” The FBI estimates Silk Road’s sales revenue at 9.5 million Bitcoins, with commissions from sales totaling 600,000 Bitcoins—the equivalent (depending on Bitcoin’s fluctuating value) of $1.2 billion in sales and roughly $80 million in commissions.
The complaint alleges that Ulbricht maintained a small staff to manage the Website’s IT operations, while he handled the money sloshing through the system. Silk Road depended on Tor, a network that relies on relays that make it difficult to trace individual Internet activity. In addition to narcotics, other black-market goods available through the forum included firearms and ammunition, stolen personal info, counterfeit currency, pirated media content such as movies, hacking tools such as keyloggers and Trojans, fake driver’s licenses and social security cards, and so much more.
In order to protect this massive network, Dread Pirate Roberts allegedly wanted to hire a hitman to kill FriendlyChemist, a Silk Road user who threatened to release a portion of the network’s identities unless he received a hefty sum of cash. Ulbricht was eventually tracked down via a combination of online clues, including subscriber records obtained from Google. He was arrested Oct. 1 at a library in San Francisco.