ANNOUNCEMENT: Since the Silk Road 2.0 bust by the feds a few other Darknet Markets have fallen. Silk Road 3 is up and running with a big selection of goods.
And so, the Silk Road saga continues.
More than two years after Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested in an unsuspecting San Francisco library for his role behind the Silk Road dark web marketplace, another alleged major player in the story has been charged. (Ulbricht has subsequently been sentenced to life in prison.)
Variety Jones, a figure that emerged during Ross Ulbricht’s trial, was charged a few short weeks ago with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking. These charges carry maximum terms of 20 years and life, respectively.
New charges added to the criminal complaint by the US Department of Justice on December 18th include narcotics trafficking, narcotics distribution via the internet, conspiracy to distribute fraudulent ID documents, and conspiracy to aid and abet hacking. It is unclear just how many criminal charges in total will be laid against Variety Jones in regards to his part in the Silk Road marketplace.
The man that the Department of Justice alleges is Variety Jones is a 54-yr. old Canadian by the name of Roger Thomas Clark. Clark was arrested in Thailand on December 3rd, where he has been suspected of living for the past few years on the picturesque island of Koh Chang.
Clark is now sitting in a Thai jail cell attempting to fight extradition charges, according to his lawyer.
But how were authorities lead to Clark? And how does Variety Jones fit into the picture?
During Ulbricht’s trial, chat logs and Ulbricht’s journal were uncovered that pointed to a figure – Variety Jones and his various pseudonyms – as a key player in the Silk Road empire. Variety Jones emerged as a firmly entrenched business mentor to Ulbricht, and even suggested his Dread Pirate Roberts name.
The pair met through the Silk Road marketplace, where Variety Jones was a well-respected marijuana seed dealer. In late 2011, Variety Jones uncovered a flaw in the marketplace and immediately informed Ulbricht. Conversations lead to a significant server configuration change, and the relationship was established.
From there, the two became close, with Variety Jones making various business suggestions regarding the marketplace and its future. Jones was even the first person to suggest that Ulbricht “make a hit” on someone – which ultimately failed due to the hitman actually being a corrupt law enforcement officer trying to bring about the downfall of both Ulbricht and Silk Road.
Ulbricht and Variety Jones plotted to turn Silk Road into a “Google-like” structure, with encrypted web mail, a credit union, and Bitcoin exchange. This project was not to come to fruition.
That corrupt law enforcement officer, along with other efforts, ended up being the downfall of Silk Road and ultimately Ulbricht himself. After identifying Variety Jones as a key player during the trial, both the internet (via user La Moustache), and presumably law enforcement, went to work trying to identify the mysterious figure behind the Variety Jones name.
Efforts via a combination of studying collapsed Mt. Gox exchange user databases, Bitcoin blockchain records, investigative journalism, and possibly even good old fashioned hacking, uncovered a trail leading back to Thailand and the 54-yr. old Roger Thomas Clark.
Variety Jones, it seemed, had been involved in selling marijuana seeds for some time. His business wasn’t simply established when Silk Road came online. He was linked to forum posts in 2006 on a popular site for seed sellers, and then travelled in 2008 to the island of Koh Chang to source a very particular strain of marijuana seed. In later years he continued posting on various marijuana forums, even supposedly currently making posts from his Thai jail cell via a secret hidden mobile phone.
An early adopter of selling via the dark web marketplace, Variety Jones was conducting business in Bitcoin since the early days of its appearance. It appears he was a key figure in growing the Silk Road marketplace and acted as a mentor to Ulbricht.
For now, Clark is awaiting his fate, still sitting in an undesirable Thai cell packed with other prisoners. Ulbricht is in jail attempting to appeal his convictions. A third major figure behind Silk Road, Smedley, the website’s key coder, remains a mystery for now.
It is likely that Clark will be extradited to the United States from Thailand to face all charges laid against him. It will be interesting to see how the trial plays out, especially considering the sentencing previously applied to Ulbricht. Silk Road and its creators have fallen from grace, and it appears the deep web isn’t as anonymous as we’d like it to be.