Three days after “Breaking Bad” ended, the federal government shut down the online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. This is not the Silk Road of the Han Dynasty that existed around 200 BC. Silk Road existed in the deep web and was thought to be anonymous.
The founder of the site, 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht was indicted on Oct. 2, 2013 in Maryland on charges ranging from conspiracy to distribution a controlled substance, to attempted witness murder.
Ulbricht graduated from the University of Texas in 2006 with a bachelor of science degree in physics; he later attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Materials Science and Engineering from 2006 to 2010. That Ulbricht seems to be entirely different from the online alter ego who ran Silk Road. His name on the Silk Road was “Dread Pirate Roberts,” or “DPR,” and he maintained several fake aliases since the website was founded in February 2011.
They used a Tor system, which is a hidden service created by the U.S. government to evade enemies attempting to intercept messages. It reroutes your IP address continually, which makes it nearly impossible to trace the origin and find the user. Users could buy and sell narcotics and federal agents would be unable to track the IP address, making it impossible to make arrests.
How or why he decided to start the site is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: DPR was not letting anyone get in his way once the cash started rolling in.
His worth fluctuated over the lifespan of Silk Road. The site was run by using the virtual currency Bitcoin. Bitcoin (BTC) is an anonymous, decentralized form of electronic currency. The initial value of Bitcoin was $2 when Silk Road began.
The current value is somewhere around $126. In April of 2013, it was $266 per coin, and with DPR having roughly 600,000 BTC, he was worth around $160 million.
The most diabolical of the charges levied against Ulbricht are two accounts of attempted murder-for-hire that will probably have people thinking of a man by the name of Walter White.
In messages obtained by the feds, it is apparent that a Silk Road user by the name of “FriendlyChemist” sought to extort DPR and reveal identities of users if he was not given $500,000 to cover a debt to his supplier. DPR asked to contact the supplier, and when he got in touch with him he told him he would pay $150,000 to execute FriendlyChemist.
DPR sent the supplier, “redandwhite,” the aforementioned sum, 1,670 BTC. The supplier then provided photographic evidence of the alleged murder. Federal investigators could not find record of any murder or missing person in the area, but in the messages that investigators have obtained, DPR is quoted as saying, “Not long ago, I had a clean hit done for 80K.”
The $80,000 hit was done by undercover federal agents who pretended to carry out the order as a way to get more information from a detained employee and hopefully track down Ulbricht. This employee of DPR had been arrested upon receiving a false drug order that was sent by the agents. The initial job order by DPR was to torture the employee and get the money back. A day later, DPR changed his mind and decided that the employee knew too much. They agreed upon $40,000 advance and $40,000 upon completion, which was to be wired to a Capital One Bank in Washington, D.C. After the staged murder by undercover agents on Feb. 28, 2013, DPR messaged the agents saying, “I’m pissed I had to kill him, but what’s done is done. I just can’t believe he was so stupid. I just wish more people had some integrity.”
Things continued to spiral out of control for Ulbricht, who accidentally had registered on a website with all of his real information, email address, etc. The feds finally had something traceable, and when Ulbricht ordered false identification in order to buy more servers to run his deep-web drug ring, the documents were intercepted. Upon going to his residence they discovered that he had been living there under a false identity and his roommates knew him by the name Josh. Combined with all the information from watching the site, the only thing they needed was Dread Pirate Roberts.
Billions of dollars passed through the Silk Road during its existence. The domain has since been seized and taken down, and arrests of other users are beginning to be made.