On October 2013, the FBI shutdown Silkroad and arrested alleged mastermind Ross William Ulbricht. Ulbricht now faces charges of computer hacking, money laundering, conspiracy to traffic narcotics and planning murder. However, what is overlooked is the fact that there are been very few convictions of the vendors who used the website to run profitable illicit businesses.
Silkroad began its life in February 2011, taking its name from the historical trade route in Asia. It quickly became the Internet’s most popular marketplace for illegal product. Thanks to Tor hidden services, users were able to browse Silkroad anonymously without having to worry about traffic being monitored. The underground site was home to a wide range of products for sale including books, art and apparel. However, it is best known as being the “Amazon.com of illegal drugs”. In March 2013, it was estimated that of 10,000 products that were on sale on Silkroad 70% were drugs.
The first person to be convicted as a result of transactions on Silkroad was an Australian cocaine and MDMA dealer. This conviction was a result of importing drugs through the mail to Australia. When police searched through his home they found information linking him to his Silkroad areas on this computer. Another key arrest was that of Jacob Theodore George IV who a Silkroad vendor was named “Digital Link” who pleaded guilty to selling heroin and bath salts on the digital marketplace. Vendor Steven Lloyd Sadler with the name “NOD” was also arrested by Federal agents for selling cocaine and heroin. Both George and Sadler would later corporate with the government and the case against Ross Ulbricht.
In one 2013 study, it was estimated that there were between $30-$45 million in transactions annually through the Silkroad. In the Federal case against Ross Ulbricht it was alleged that there were 3,877 vendors actively doing business on the site. In comparison to the size of the trade volume and the number of vendors, there have been a relatively small numbers of arrests. These arrests also appear to be the result of postal intercepts and other drug investigations, rather than as a result of Silkroad being penetrated by the government.