After seizing the domain and servers of Silk Road - a black market, eBay-like online bazaar for heroin, ecstasy, other illegal drugs and every known type of prescription drugs - federal prosecutors on Wednesday released two separate set of charges against its alleged kingpin.
That man is 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, allegedly aka Dread Pirate Roberts, DPR, or Silk Road, among other aliases.
In the court documents - an affidavit from FBI agent Christopher Tarbell and a criminal complaint against Ulbricht filed in the state of Maryland, Ulbricht is accused of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, hacking, and of attempted murder by paying $80,000 to have a former employee killed.
The intended victim was a Silk Road employee who, Ulbricht allegedly feared, would turn him in to law enforcement.
Ulbricht allegedly contracted a hitman - in actuality, an undercover agent who then provided faked photos of the purported murder.
Another intended victim was somebody who, prosecutors say, was a Silk Road user who was trying to blackmail Ulbricht after hacking one of the site's vendors and learning the identities of thousands of the site’s users.
Officials have been unable to confirm that killing, for which Ulbricht allegedly paid $150,000.
Prosecutors on Wednesday estimated that the illegal drug empire - a forum for making matches between drug dealers and buyers worldwide - saw $1.2 billion in sales over the last three years, earning its alleged founder $80 million.
For his part, whoever's behind Silk Road, be it Ulbricht or not, has claimed that there were simply no victims left in the wake of its dealings.
When Forbes's Andy Greenberg in August interviewed the Dread Pirate Roberts persona behind Silk Road, he described the drug market as a "victimless libertarian experiment."
In a collection of DPR's writings that Forbes posted in April, the Silk Road founder described the market in economic terms:
Silk Road was founded on libertarian principles and continues to be operated on them. It is a great idea and a great practical system…It is not a utopia. It is regulated by market forces, not a central power (even I am subject to market forces by my competition. No one is forced to be here). The same principles that have allowed Silk Road to flourish can and do work anywhere human beings come together. The only difference is that the State is unable to get its thieving murderous mitts on it. [10/1/2012]
He also takes aim against the US War on Drugs, the potential for drug cartels to form on Silk Road, the "heroes" who risked their lives and liberty selling drugs on the market, issues of trust, whether he founded Silk Road just to make money, and much more.
It's makes an interesting read if you're open to libertarian notions - is drug usage a victimless crime? Are drug laws inflicted on us by governments that should, perhaps, spend their resources elsewhere?
DPR expressed a noble desire to help others:
I just want to look back on my life and know that I did something worthwhile that helped people.
The thing is, Ulbricht intended to leave bodies in his wake, prosecutors allege. That's hardly victimless, if it proves true, and it certainly points to the downside of a market that functions outside of the law.
Laws can be darn good. They dissuade people from killing each other, for one thing.
Ulbricht is being held without bail. According to the Los Angeles Times, he appeared briefly on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco but did not enter a plea.
He's scheduled to return to court Friday.
In light of all this, would you deem the shuttering of Silk Road a victory against lawlessness or a defeat at the hands of government?
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