BITCOIN, THE SILK ROAD AND MURDER FOR HIRE
Robert Ulbricht was a graduate student studying solar cells at Pennsylvania State University. In 2011, he dropped a promising career in Science, moved to San Francisco and, according to federal investigators, started a now-notorious online community called the Silk Road.
The Silk Road’s philosophy was that people should be able to buy and sell just about anything without government interference. Using Bitcoin as tender, the Site sold “victimless contraband” such as pot, heroin and meth. There were some rules, as the site would not deal in child pornography or stolen credit cards. In 2012, believing the site needed an identifiable leader, its administrator began calling himself Dread Pirate Roberts, after a character in “The Princess Bride.”
The Silk Road was wildly popular and successful. Using escrow accounts to encourage the trust normally given to traditional establishments such as banks, courts and law enforcement, the site allegedly did more than $1 billion in business. The escrow accounts were used by the site’s administrator – Dread Pirate Roberts – to hold purchasers’ deposited bitcoin until the purchased items were delivered by the sellers; then the bitcoin was released to the sellers. The site was also a community of sorts, espousing radical libertarian economic ideas, sponsoring a book club and even sponsoring a “movie night.”
The FBI began investigating the Silk Road in 2011 and believed it had digitally traced the identity of Dread Pirate Roberts by 2013. By then, Robert Ulbricht was supposedly under constant surveillance both online and offline. The FBI was highly interested in him not only for the site’s extra-legal and illegal activities but also because Dead Pirate Roberts allegedly ordered 2 – 6 murders for hire. One target was supposedly a Silk Road user named “FriendlyChemist” who hacked into the computer of another user, obtained a list of names/identities of Silk Road customers and threatened to expose them unless Dread Pirate Roberts paid $500,000 to “FriendlyChemist.” Still another supposed target was an employee of the site whose arrest threatened the entire site. In at least one case, Dread Pirate Roberts made the mistake of hiring an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. Dread Pirate Roberts allegedly paid $730,000 in Bitcoin for the six murders-for-hire, none of which reportedly ended in actual murder.
In late summer 2013, federal agents walked up behind Robert Ulbricht, who was using his computer at the Glen Park Public Library, arrested him and seized his laptop.
Ulbricht now faces charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, hacking, criminal enterprise, conspiracy and murder-for-hire. The trial has been postponed until January 2015.
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