Feds shut down massive drugs website

NEW YORK — A hidden website operated by a San Francisco man using an alias from “The Princess Bride” became a vast black market bazaar that brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services, according to court papers made public on Wednesday in New York.

A criminal complaint in New York charged the alleged mastermind, Ross William Ulbricht, with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering. A separate indictment in Maryland also accused him in a failed murder-for-hire scheme.

The website, Silk Road, allowed users to anonymously browse through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like “Cannibus,” “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 with an encryption technique called “onion routing,” which is designed to make it “practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites on the network,” court papers said.

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 personal laptop chatting with a cooperating witness about Silk Road when FBI agents from New York and San Francisco took him into custody, authorities said.

Along with drugs, the website offered various illegal services, including one vendor who offered to hack into Facebook, Twitter and other social networking accounts and another selling tutorials on how to hack into ATM machines. Under the “Forgeries” category, sellers advertised forged driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards and other documents.

As of July, there were nearly 1 million registered users of the site from the United States, Germany, Russia, Australia and elsewhere around the globe, the court papers said. The site generated an estimated $1.2 billion since it started in 2011 and collected $80 million by charging 8 to 15 percent commission on each sale, they said.

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