2018 national prison strike

Taking stock of the Silk Road in 2014

Its alleged founder is in jail, and suppliers are making deals in court.


Tim Sampson

Internet Culture

Rewinding the clocks a year, the Silk Road—the infamous, Bitcoin-fueled Deep Web black market—entered 2013 as the kingpin of online black market activity. 

The constantly moving site, only accessible through the Tor network, had reportedly carried out $1.2 billion in lifetime business as of July last year. Drug dealers and other contraband distributors were raking in money (in the form of Bitcoin) hand-over-fist. And it all appeared to be untraceable. It seemed like the perfect criminal empire

Flash forward to early days of 2014. The Silk Road has been shut down for three months. It’s alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht, sits behind bars trying to figure out how to get $30 million in Bitcoin back from the feds while denying his supposed criminal alter ego, Dread Pirate Roberts. And an attempt at Silk Road 2.0 has run headlong into start-up troubles that include more arrests.

The fallout continues as those implicated in criminal activity through the site now face litigation. Here is a update on some of the notable, ongoing legal proceedings stemming from the Silk Road’s downfall.

Doctors Feelgood

This week, we learned that Federal prosecutors are trying to work out a plea deal with a Delaware doctor and John Hopkins Medical School instructor who stands accused of selling illegal drugs through the site. Prosecutors are trying to resolve the case of Alexandra Gold without going to trial. Gold and her live-in partner and fellow gynecologist Olivia Bolles are charged with maintaining a dwelling for drugs. The Washington Post reports that Gold has told prosecutors she helped Bolles package drugs for shipment. Bolles remains in custody. Gold is out on bond but suspended from her teaching position at John Hopkins.

Breaking Bad

Another case of Silk Road drug trafficking notable for its sheer volume involves four alleged drug dealers in Portland, Ore. who stand accused of conducting more than 3,000 meth sales on the Silk Road between August 2012 and August 2013. A federal grand jury has accused Jason Weld Hagen, 39; Chelsea Leah Reder, 23; Richard Egan Webster, 45; and Donald Ross Bechen, 39 of conspiring to sell 17 pounds of meth for more than $600,000. All four have pleaded not guilty. The indictment against the accused dealers claims the Silk Road allowed them to sell to buyers in the United States, Australia, the Czech Republic, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada. In addition to drug charges, these four also face a collective 15 counts of domestic and international money laundering charges.

The Next Generation

Recently three men were arrested and accused of trying to resurrect the Silk Road with a 2.0 version that promised to be more secure. Andrew Michael Jones of Virginia, Gary Davis of Ireland and Peter Phillip Nash of Australia, all face criminal indictments from the U.S. Department of Justice for trying to revive the marketplace. Prosecutors also accused the men of working with Ulbricht on the original Silk Road. All three are each charged with one count of narcotics conspiracy, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking. Their arrests have crippled the revamped site, causing the new Dread Pirate Roberts to abandon ship

The Godfather

And of course there is Ulbricht, the man supposedly behind it all. After his surprising arrest in San Francisco in October, Ulbricht has sat in a New York jail awaiting trial on slew of charges related to narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. A judge has refused to grant bail, viewing Ulbricht as a flight risk and a danger to others. The 29-year-old stands accused of having tried to arrange a half dozen murders-for-hire. At the moment, Ulbricht is attempting to reclaim some $30 million in seized Bitcoin, claiming an interest as owner while still maintaining his innocence. 

And he’s also passing time in jail by teaching yoga to his fellow inmates.

Photo by Dave/Flickr

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