Failed student jailed for Silk Road, dark web drug profiteering

The operator of Silk Road 2.0 was unemployed and yet lived the high life.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

A former student has been jailed after being found guilty of operating a dark web marketplace dedicated to the sale of drugs, as well as creating a catalog of child sex abuse imagery.

Last week the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) said that Thomas White took over the operation of the Silk Road marketplace following the seizure of the original domain by the FBI in 2013.

After dropping out from an accountancy degree at Liverpool John Moores University after a single term, the former Silk Road administrator launched Silk Road 2.0

The resurrected trading post was similar to the original, in which it allowed traders to sell drugs, counterfeit goods, hacking tools, and other illegal products.

Transactions were anonymized -- to a degree -- through the use of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin during exchanges.

It is not known exactly how much money the 24-year-old made while acting as the Silk Road 2.0 chief. However, the NCA noted that despite 'unemployment' on the outside, White was able to spend thousands of pounds on a downpayment for a luxury apartment.

Law enforcement says that on each sale taking place in Silk Road 2.0, White took a commission of between one and five percent. It is estimated that $96 million was generated through sales.

Silk Road 2.0 specialized in class A and B drugs, but White also began a catalog of indecent imagery relating to child sexual abuse with the aim of eventually setting up a separate domain focused on pedophilia.

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UK police uncovered the second scheme following a raid on White's apartment, in which a seized laptop contained the images. In total, 464 category A -- the most severe rating -- images were found.

An online chat session viewed by the NCA suggested that White believed there was "money to be made" from those who would purchase child abuse and pornography content.

The laptop also contained stolen data from a variety of sources including the FBI, NASA, Ashley Madison, TalkTalk, and the US Fraternal Order of the Police.

White ran Silk Road 2.0 from November 2013 to March 2014 before law enforcement closed the marketplace down. Other administrators involved included Defcon (Blake Benthall), Libertas (Gary Davis), Inigo (Andrew Jones), and Dr. Clu (Brian Farrell), all of which have been collared by law enforcement in the United States.

The Silk Road 2.0 operator pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering and making 464 category A indecent images of children. White was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court and has been jailed for five years and four months.

White used two main aliases while running Silk Road 2.0. One of which was "Dread Pirate Roberts," the name which the original operator of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, also used to run his business.

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Ulbricht was arrested in 2013 and was given a double life sentence, plus 40 years, without the possibility of parole. The 35-year-old now dictates tweets from prison and a petition has been launched requesting clemency. Considering Ulbricht's sentence, White appears to have been lucky. 

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"White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy," Ian Glover from the National Crime Agency said. "He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down. [...] This has been a complex, international investigation and follows previous investigations led by the NCA into dark web criminality, and working with our international partners, the UK is fast becoming an increasingly hostile environment for dark web crime."

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