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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

SF Man Said to Be at Helm of ‘Silk Road 2.0’

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Blake Benthall, aka "Defcon," was arrested for resurrecting an underground website that traffics narcotics and other illegal wares, the Justice Department said Thursday.

He will be arraigned before a federal magistrate in San Francisco later today.

Prosecutors charged Benthall, 26, with conspiracy to commit narcotics and fraudulent documents trafficking, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison.

The government shut down the first incarnation of Silk Road in 2013 after discovering that its operators had used the website to sell millions of dollars in illegal drugs and other black-market items.

The four men who ran the site allegedly sold hundreds of kilograms of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to more than 100,000 buyers, and also provided a platform for hackers, password stealers and keyloggers to purchase malware.

Prosecutors say Benthall resurrected his own version of Silk Road in 2013. The website operated on the "Tor" network, a complex of computers around the world designed to conceal their true IP addresses - and therefore the users' identities.

Although just a year old, the Justice Department says that Silk Road 2.0 has supported the sales of hundreds of pounds of drugs and the laundering of millions of dollars. The site generated more than $8 million a month and had 150,000 active users.

Users paid for the illegal goods in Bitcoins - as was the norm on the original Silk Road -to protect their anonymity and evade law enforcement, prosecutors say. As of last month, the site had 13,000 listings for illicit drugs, and also advertised fraudulent documents and hacking tools and services for sale.

Since taking over as administrator in December 2013, Benthall allegedly controlled all aspects of the Silk Road 2.0 site. Prosecutors say he oversaw infrastructure, programming, terms of service, commissions paid and a small staff of moderators who assisted with the site's day-to-day operations.

A Department of Homeland Security investigator took the keys to the kingdom after successfully infiltrated the site's support staff, according to the complaint. From there, the agent allegedly interacted directly with Benthall in the running of the site.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York - where the criminal complaint against Benthall was filed - confirmed the federal government's laserlike focus on cyber-crime.

"Let's be clear - this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison," Bharara said. "Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don't get tired."

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos added: "Benthall should have known that those who hide behind the keyboard will ultimately be found. The FBI worked with law enforcement partners here and abroad on this case and will continue to investigate and bring to prosecution those who seek to run similar black markets online."

Benthall will be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley.

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