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The founder of the Internet black market site Silk Road was arrested and appeared in federal court Wednesday for allegedly running the illicit online marketplace.
Ross Ulbricht, 29, was a college graduate who not only allegedly ran a worldwide portal for illegal drug and weapon sales, but is also believed to have put out a hit on two of his former associates, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Though Ulbricht has reached the end of the Silk Road, his journey through the federal criminal system is just beginning.
The Silk Road has been operating somewhat in the dark, accessible only through special software called Tor that provides anonymous Web browsing.
Once users accessed the Silk Road, they could allegedly shop for fake IDs, crystal meth, firearms, or even hacking and murder-for-hire services. The entire criminal enterprise was run using Bitcoin, a semi-unstable, entirely virtual currency that has been a favorite for criminals because of its untraceable transactions.
The Times reports that the Justice Department seized an estimated $3.6 million in Bitcoin when the feds shut down Silk Road -- "the largest-ever seizure" of Bitcoin to date.
There is nothing illegal about using Bitcoin, but orchestrating a virtual bazaar for illegal goods and services certainly is. With allegations of drug conspiracy and money laundering, Ulricht faces a litany of charges.
Ulricht, whose online moniker was "Dread Pirate Roberts" (a fictional pirate of great notoriety, for those of you unfamiliar with "The Princess Bride"). Despite what he called himself, a federal complaint alleges that the virtual black market's founder reached out to a hit man and offered $150,000 to have a former employee killed.
Luckily for that employee, alias "FriendlyChemist," the hitman was an undercover officer, who then faked the killing and sent Ulricht photos of it in exchange for $150,000 in Bitcoin.
Even if Ulricht did not attempt to commit the actual murder himself, the act of allegedly putting out a hit on someone -- and paying for it -- is a federal crime punishable by death.
Federal prosecutors have not indicated whether they will seek the death penalty for Ulricht, and according to the Times, he will return to San Francisco federal court on Friday.
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