A 29-year-old San Francisco resident was taken into custody on Tuesday in the science fiction section of the Glen Park Branch Library. Federal prosecutors accuse the man of masterminding an online drug marketplace called “Silk Road,” where buyers and sellers of illegal drugs could make their exchanges in an atmosphere much like that of eBay.
Silk Road and its anonymous operator, known only as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” are the subject of two parallel federal criminal cases — a federal complaint in New York and a grand jury indictment, also federal, in Maryland. Prosecutors claim the science fiction fan is one of a series of men claiming the dread pirate moniker, and they charged this one with a variety of offenses — and not just cybercrimes. He is facing federal charges ranging from narcotics trafficking and money laundering to attempted murder.
Agents from the FBI, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the DEA and ICE Homeland Security Investigations apparently spent months trying to infiltrate Silk Road. Authorities have described the site as operating much like eBay, in that the site itself did not offer any drugs for sale but connected third-party buyers and sellers.
Investigators claim to have made some 100 undercover purchases in 10 countries through Silk Road. Since 2011 or earlier, authorities say, the site has made drugs ranging from cocaine and heroin to amphetamine paste. Prosecutors claim the San Francisco man has been running the site from the Bay Area, using Internet connections at libraries and a Laguna Street cybercafé near a previous home in Hayes Valley, for at least a year.
It seems the agents were only able to find the San Francisco man because someone at used a public computer at that cybercafé to administer the site. For a dread pirate who eluded cybercrime experts’ best efforts for an extended period, this would have been a surprising mistake.
During his run as Dread Pirate Roberts, prosecutors say, the man allegedly collected $80-million in commissions on sales worth an estimated $1.2 billion. They also say he hired undercover agents to kill two people he perceived as threats to the organization.
Interestingly, payments on Silk Road were made in Bitcoins, a form of Internet currency. Bitcoins aren’t illegal and have a number of legitimate uses, but since they’re not tied to banks or credit card processers, they’re anonymous and untraceable.
Source: SFGate, “Alleged online drug kingpin arrested at SF library,” Henry K. Lee, Oct. 2, 2013