A University of Texas at Dallas graduate is accused of operating a vast black market bazaar that brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services, according to court papers released Wednesday.
A criminal complaint in New York accused Ross William Ulbricht of being the mastermind and charged him with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering. A separate indictment in Maryland accused him in a failed murder-for-hire scheme.
Ulbricht, 29, apparently split his time between Austin and San Francisco.
The website, Silk Road, allowed users to anonymously browse through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like "Cannabis," "Psychedelics" and "Stimulants" before making purchases using the electronic currency Bitcoin. One listing for heroin promised buyers "all rock, no powder, vacuum sealed and stealth shipping," and had a community forum below where one person commented, "Quality is superb."
The website protected users by making it “practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites,” court papers said. It’s called the deep web.
Federal authorities shut the site down and arrested Ulbricht on Tuesday afternoon in a branch of San Francisco's public library. Ulbricht was online on his laptop chatting with a cooperating witness about Silk Road when FBI agents from New York and San Francisco took him into custody, authorities said.
Ulbricht announced in a website forum last year that to avoid confusion he needed to change his Silk Road username, court papers said. He wrote, "drum roll please ... my new name is: Dread Pirate Roberts," an apparent reference to a swashbuckling character in "The Princess Bride," the 1987 comedy film based on a novel of the same name.
Ulbricht's LinkedIn profile lists him as an investment adviser and entrepreneur.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.