How One Tab Of Ecstasy Brought Down The Internet’s Most Infamous Black Market

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With cheaper and supposedly safer drug deals available online, a digital drug revolution has been sweeping across America and the UK.

If buying illegal substances online, it allows you to not only buy in bulk, but to make purchases anonymously, which appeals to a mass audience who feel there is low-risk involved.

For nearly three years ‘Dead Pirate Roberts’ ran one of the most infamous black market’s – a $1.2bn network – that allowed thousands of drug-dealers to sell substances online.

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According to the FBI, Roberts was prepared to use violence to protect his privacy, in a business that dubbed him the kingpin of the world’s largest online drugs supermarket.

Ross William Ulbricht was finally arrested after the FBI had spent two years trying to infiltrate his website, ‘Silk Road’, reported The Independent.

The 29-year-old was one of the most wanted men in America, despite, according to his family, having a lifestyle that gave few hints to him being a major player in the criminal underworld.

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His mother Lyn Lacava said:

He is a really steller, good person and very idealistic.

I know he never meant to hurt anyone.

Ulbricht was also accused of a failed hit on a blackmailer who threatened to expose users of the site unless he was paid $500,000.

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Ulbricht’s website, Silk Road, allowed users to anonymously browse through nearly 13,000 listings, which included categories such as ‘Cannabis’, ‘Psychedelics’ and ‘Stimulants’, before making purchases using the electronic currency Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a network that allows you to manage transactions without the need for banks, which is also relatively untraceable.

One listing for heroin promised buyers ‘all rock, no powder, vacuum-sealed and stealth shipping’, and had a community forum below where one person commented, ‘Quality is superb’.

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The website protected users with an encryption technique called onion routing.

According to court documents, it was designed to make it:

…practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites on the network.

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One single moment instigated Ulbricht’s arrest – a Customs and Border Protection officer who noticed an unusual envelope from the Netherlands, as stated in Nick Bilton’s book, American Kingpin.

The address on the front had been typed instead of hand-written and when opened, it contained just one single pink ecstasy pill.

Despite being only one pill – agents didn’t take notice unless there was around a 1,000 pills – he had been given instructions by a then-rookie Homeland Security agent to contact him should he come across anything destined for his patch in Chicago.

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This led to a two-year long investigation, but Ulbricht was finally caught when customs agents intercepted fake documents with his photo on them.

Despite refusing to answer questions, the papers revealed that agents had been buying drugs off the site since 2011 before they finally managed to tracked him down.

He was arrested in a branch of San Francisco’s public library while online on his laptop talking about the ‘Silk Road’ with someone helping the FBI, authorities said.

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A federal judge handed Ulbricht five sentences – including two for life – to be served concurrently with no chance of parole.

In court, Ulbricht pleaded:

I’ve changed, I’m not the man I was when I created Silk Road – I’m a little wiser, a little more mature and much more humble

In May this year, the federal court rejected his appeal.

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The arrest was seen as a huge success for the FBI, who have traditionally been viewed as slow in their quest to deal with cyber-crime.


Anne-Marie Bojan

Anne-Marie Bojan

A sports enthusiast with a BA (Hons) in Sports Journalism, who can be found predominantly at Villa Park. Having completed a Masters in Broadcast Journalism, she then went on to work at Sky Sports, the BBC, and the Mirror. When not engrossed in sport, it's animals, guitars, and Liam Gallagher which take main focus.