Ross Ulbricht, owner of the billion-dollar black market drug ring known as Silk Road, has been arrested. This self-proclaimed entrepreneur, who goes by the nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts,” made terrible mistakes while reaching out for help. Using his real name and email address, Ulbricht, 29, reached out to the internet asking for tech support. FBI agents arrested this alleged criminal mastermind in the science fiction section of the San Francisco library on Tuesday. Hours later, Silk Road met with a dead end when customers of the website clicked on only to find a note from law enforcement. “This hidden site has been seized.”
Silk Road, an apparently anonymous website, was an online marketplace for illegal drugs of every kind. From marijuana and black tar heroin, to guns and fake licenses, Silk Road was a fully functioning illicit shopping center that brought in an estimated 1.2 billion dollars.
Officials say Ulbricht was able to keep his business hidden from law enforcement by using a currency only used in the cyber world called bitcoins. Because bitcoins are independent of banks or any other financial institution, they are nearly impossible to trace. Ulbricht, the overly cautious mastermind, messed up when he did not follow his own security protocols.
Using the Tor network instead of the regular internet, users were able to shop anonymously due to Tor’s ability to cover its users by encrypting everything sent across the internet. This smokescreen is the reason it took agents nearly two years to find Ulbricht.
The FBI not only arrested the daring “Dread Pirate Roberts,” they also seized all of the company’s assets. The bitcoins, which were the primary asset at Silk Road, were estimated to be worth around $9.5 million. Initially, 26,000 actual coins were gathered, with an estimated $140 per bitcoin. The bitcoins seized were only those sent to the company by customers and Ulbricht’s accounts have not yet been seized, though investigators are guessing that could be another $80 million. An FBI spokesperson stated the coins would be held until the judicial process has ended.
Prior to his entrepreneurial career, Ulbricht was a politically inspired, smart college kid, court documents say. Over the past two years, though, it is said his personality took a hit and he had turned into a cold businessman. At one point, he allegedly tried hiring a hit man to kill a rival business partner who had threatened to blackmail Ulbricht.
This story, filled with illegal drugs, guns, underground internet businesses, and a new currency, is too intriguing to ignore. Silk Road, which also boasted to having internet hackers for sale, is a slap in the face to reality for those naïve about the drastic measures some will take to become wealthy. This once bright young man now faces criminal complaints in federal courts in both New York and Maryland. From a college kid with a seemingly hopeful future as a businessman, to the now arrested “Dread Pirate Roberts,” Ulbricht’s attempt to make it big has only driven him and his Silk Road into a dead end.
Written by: Amy Magness Whatley