The Silk Road made quite a stir on the web – an anonymous, online drug marketplace clocking more than $200 million in sales? It was unprecedented on a whole new level, and its creator / overlord – Dread Pirate Roberts – stirred the forces of the Deep Web with fiery rhetoric and a decidedly Amazon-ish approach to drug trafficking (including, but not limited to, customer reviews of drugs).
In one of the biggest online manhunts ever, Dread Pirate Roberts was caught and revealed to be Ross Ulbright, a 31-year-old Texan who Wired dubbed “one of the biggest entrepreneurs of the second Internet boom”. Ulbright was sentenced to life under charges that include distributing drugs to money laundering to conspiracy to commit computer hacking. Ulbright reportedly begged for a more lenient sentence.
Regardless of Ulbright’s fate, the Silk Road model has now become the template for many other Internet drug marketplaces. Ulbright himself did not stand up very well to his newfound fame as the face of Internet drug peddling, in the aftermath of the event, the judge doing the sentencing, Katherine Forest, was apparently targeted by cyberactivists: her personal information was published in a wiki and public calls were issued for her murder (feeding her into a woodchipper was apparently a popular choice). In response, Department of Justice investigators obtained a grand jury subpoena to let them try to identify the people behind some of these comments on Reason.com, which extensively covered the trial from a pro-Ulbright angle.
Ironically, two of the investigators who worked the case are facing charges of corruption. The most prominent is Carl Mark Force IV, who reportedly started his own Bitcoin-fueled digital hustle in order to trick the Silk Road founder to accept him. The jury’s still out on that one.