“End Of The Silk Road: FBI Says It’s Busted The Web’s Biggest Anonymous Drug Black Market”

October 3, 2013
Ross William Ulbricht
“Ross William Ulbricht, alleged to be the “Dread Pirate Roberts” behind Silk Road’s drug black market.”

Forbes on October 2, 2013 released the following:

By: Andy Greenberg, Forbes Staff

“After two and a half years running the booming anonymous narcotics bazaar known as the Silk Road, the drug kingpin who called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts has allegedly been unmasked.

On Wednesday, the FBI announced that they arrested 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, the Silk Road’s accused administrator, in the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library at 3:15 Pacific time on Tuesday. Ulbricht has been charged with engaging in a money laundering and narcotics trafficking conspiracy as well as computer hacking. The Department of Justice has seized the website of the Silk Road’s as well as somewhere between $3.5 to 4 million in bitcoins, the cryptographic currency used to buy drugs on the Silk Road.

Earlier this summer, the Silk Road’s administrator calling himself by the Dread Pirate Roberts pseudonym gave his first extended interview to Forbes over the same Tor anonymity network that has hosted the Silk Road and its users since the site’s creation in early 2011.

Forbes estimated at the time that the Silk Road was earning between $30 and $45 million in annual revenue. In fact, the number may have been far larger: The criminal complaint against Ulbricht states that the Silk Road turned over $1.2 billion in revenue since its creation, and generated $80 million commissions for its operator or operators.

“This is supposed to be some invisible black market bazaar. We made it visible,” says an FBI spokesperson, who asked not to be named. “When you interviewed [Ulbricht], he said he would never be arrested. But no one is beyond the reach of the FBI. We will find you.”

The FBI hasn’t yet revealed how it managed to track down Ulbricht in spite of his seemingly careful use of encryption and anonymity tools to protect his identity and those of his customers and vendors who visited Silk Road as often as 60,000 times per day. The FBI spokesperson declined to offer details about the investigation, but told me that “basically he made a simple mistake and we were able to identify him.”

One clue mentioned in the criminal complaint against Ulbricht was a package seized from the mail by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol as it crossed the Canadian border, containing nine seemingly counterfeit identification documents, each of which used a different name but featured Ulbricht’s photograph. The address on the package was on 15th street in San Francisco, where police found Ulbricht and matched his face to the one on the fake IDs.

The complaint also mentions security mistakes, including an IP address for a VPN server used by Ulbricht listed in the code on the Silk Road, mentions of time in the Dread Pirate Roberts’ posts on the site that identified his time zone, and postings on the Bitcoin Talk forum under the handle “altoid,” which was tied to Ulbricht’s Gmail address.

In his conversation with me, which took place on July 4th, the Silk Road administrator calling himself the Dread Pirate Roberts espoused Libertarian ideals and claimed that the use of Bitcoin in combination with Tor had stymied law enforcement and “won the State’s War on Drugs.”

He also said he intended to bring his marketplace into mainstream awareness, and had recently launched the first non-Tor website for the Silk Road known as SilkRoadlink, which remains online. “Up until now I’ve done my best to keep Silk Road as low profile as possible … letting people discover [it] through word of mouth,” Roberts says. “At the same time, Silk Road has been around two and a half years. We’ve withstood a lot, and it’s not like our enemies are unaware any longer.”

One remaining mystery in Ulbricht’s criminal complaint is whether he was in fact the only–or the original–Dread Pirate Roberts. In his July interview with me, Roberts said that he had in fact inherited the Dread Pirate title from the site’s creator, who may have also used the same pseudonym.

As of around noon Wednesday, the Silk Road’s forum for users also remained online, and the site’s loyal users were grieving over the Silk Road takedown and mourning the arrest of Ulbricht, whose apparent persona as the Dread Pirate Roberts was a widely respected figure in the online drug community.

“jesus christ this is TERRIBLE!!” wrote one user named danceandsing. Others suggested that users migrate to other, smaller but similar anonymous black markets such as Black Market Reloaded–another popular alternative to the Silk Road known as Atlantis went offline last week, with its administrators saying only that they shut down the business for “security reasons.”

Another user blamed the Dread Pirate Roberts’ carelessness, including his decision to raise his profile by giving an interview to Forbes. “Sorry, but when he gave the fucking Forbes interview I imagined this would be coming,” wrote a user calling himself Dontek. “Should have kept all this shit on the down low rather than publicly bragging about it.”

Ulbricht’s LinkedIn profile describes his background as a graduate researcher in materials science at Pennsylvania State University, as well as an undergrad degree in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas.

According to Ulbricht’s grandmother, Martha Ulbricht, who was reached by phone, the younger Ulbricht received a full scholarship to UT Dallas. “Ross has always been an upstanding person as far as we know and a rather outstanding person,” she said.

Ulbricht’s half-brother Travis Ulbricht, also reached by phone in Sacramento, described him as an “exceptionally bright, smart kid” who had no criminal history to his knowledge.

Asked what he did for a living before moving to San Francisco, Ulbricht’s grandmother said, “Something on the computer…a little technical for me. He was good with computers.””

Federal Criminal Case 1: New York Federal Criminal Complaint
Northern District of California, Case No.: 3:13-mj-71218-JCS-1 (Proceedings on Out-of-District Criminal Charges Pursuant to Rules 5(c)(2) and (3)) and lists the following case on the docket sheet: Southern District of New York, Case No.: 13-mj-2328

21 U.S.C. 846 – Drug Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2) – Computer Hacking Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(A)(i) and (B)(i) – Money Laundering Conspiracy

Ross William Ulbricht New York Criminal Complaint

Federal Criminal Case 2: Maryland Federal Indictment
District of Maryland, Case No.: 1:13-cr-00222-CCB-1

21 U.S.C. 846 – Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Substance
18 U.S.C. 1512(a)(1)(C) – Attempted Witness Murder; 18 U.S.C. 2 – Aiding and Abetting
18 U.S.C. 1958(a) – Use of Interstate Commerce Facilities in Commission of a Murder-for-hire; 18 U.S.C. 2 – Aiding and Abetting

Ross William Ulbricht Maryland Superseding Indictment

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Liberty Reserve Accused of Laundering Billions Through Virtual Currencies

May 29, 2013

The Wall Street Journal on May 28, 2013 released the following press release:

U.S. Says Firm Laundered Billions

Digital-Currency Group Is Accused of Moving Illicit Cash for Hackers, Drug Dealers and Others

By REED ALBERGOTTI And JEFFREY SPARSHOTT

The money was virtual, but prosecutors say the crime was real.

Officials brought charges against a group of men who allegedly manufactured an Internet-based currency to launder about $6 billion in ill-gotten gains, a sign of authorities’ rising concern with digital cash.

The charges, in an indictment unsealed Tuesday, describe a complex online system set up by a Costa Rica-based organization called Liberty Reserve. The system allegedly was designed to give criminals a way to move money earned from credit-card fraud, online Ponzi schemes, child pornography and other crimes without being detected by law enforcement.

Liberty Reserve, which was incorporated in 2006, was a “bank of choice for the criminal underworld,” according to the indictment, which said the operation allegedly laundered the money through 55 million transactions before it was shut down earlier this month. The company has about one million users world-wide, including about 200,000 people in the U.S., according to prosecutors. They called the plot one of the largest money-laundering operations ever uncovered.

A spokesman for Liberty Reserve couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Prosecutors said Tuesday that they arrested five of the seven men charged in the indictment Friday in Spain, Costa Rica and Brooklyn, N.Y., and charged them with operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. The officials said they plan to seek extradition of those arrested abroad, and that the two remaining men are at large.

The indictment against Liberty Reserve comes amid a concerted effort by Washington to police the nascent world of virtual currencies and ensure operators comply with U.S. law.

On Tuesday, in the first use of the 2001 Patriot Act against a virtual currency, the Treasury Department invoked a section of the law to choke off Liberty Reserve from the U.S. financial system. The Treasury’s proposal would prohibit U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining accounts for foreign banks that process transactions for Liberty Reserve and require special steps to guard against any transactions involving it.

Virtual currencies, most notably bitcoin, still account for only a tiny fraction of global transactions, but they are being embraced by some Internet merchants and are used in a host of legitimate transactions—for example, Web services and online-dating sites.

Law-enforcement officials are concerned about criminals’ ability to move around money outside the regulated world of banks and traditional money-moving services such as Western Union. Officials recently warned that digital currency exchanges should follow traditional anti-money-laundering rules.

The rise of virtual currencies has been exemplified by bitcoin, which lets Internet users create new money by solving complex math problems. The currency, which launched in 2009 and has gone through some wild spikes in value this spring, has attracted the attention of established companies and venture capitalists alike.

Tuesday’s case doesn’t involve bitcoin, though the virtual-cash community was watching developments closely.

“I think it is just another giant, flashing warning light to bitcoin exchanges: If you’re not compliant, there are some serious risks, both at the federal and state levels,” said Patrick Murck, legal counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group that promotes bitcoin software and security standards.

Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, said at a news conference Tuesday that he believed “virtually all” of Liberty Reserve’s customers used it for criminal purposes, though he said legitimate users can seek to recover funds.

Mr. Bharara didn’t give details on the alleged criminals but said the investigation was continuing. “There’s more to come,” he said Tuesday, adding that the case has so far involved seizing $25 million dollars in 45 bank accounts around the world.

Prosecutors allege Liberty Reserve facilitated a range of criminal activity by allowing alleged criminals to conduct transactions using its digital currency, “LR.” The system is opaque, and Liberty Reserve deliberately kept the users anonymous and untraceable, prosecutors said.

A transaction would start with one person opening a Liberty Reserve account using a false name and address, including what prosecutors said were blatant criminal monikers such as “Russia Hackers” or “Hacker Account.”

That person would wire real currency such as dollars to approved third-party currency exchangers in countries including Russia and Nigeria. The exchangers would convert the dollars into LRs and deposit them into the person’s Liberty Reserve account.

From there, a criminal could buy narcotics, stolen credit-card numbers or other goods by transferring the LRs to another person’s Liberty Reserve account. The recipient of the LRs could go to another unregulated currency exchanger and convert the LRs back into dollars.

Liberty Reserve charged a 1% fee for LR currency transfers and an additional “privacy fee” of 75 cents per transaction to hide Liberty Reserve account numbers, making the transfer virtually untraceable.

Liberty Reserve made an appearance in a criminal case earlier this month. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y., accused eight people of stealing about $45 million from automated-teller machines throughout New York City using stolen prepaid debit-card numbers. Prosecutors said at least one of the men used an account at the online-currency operator to transfer some of the allegedly stolen funds.

James T. Hayes Jr., special agent-in-charge of the New York field office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said his agency became aware of possible wrongdoing at Liberty Reserve in 2010 and teamed up with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the matter.

The indictment described how two of Liberty’s founders, Arthur Budovsky and Vladimir Kats, were convicted in 2006 in New York for operating Gold Age Inc. as an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Lawyers for Mr. Budovsky and the other defendants named in the indictment couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Kats declined to comment.

The indictment said Liberty Reserve also caught the attention of Costa Rican regulators in 2009, forcing the company to allegedly set up a fake compliance system. In late 2011, the Treasury Department warned financial institutions about the risks of doing business with Liberty Reserve.

In an Internet chat-room exchange included in the indictment, one defendant allegedly said he knew the company’s activities were “illegal” and said “everyone,” including the U.S. Department of Justice, knows Liberty Reserve “is a money-laundering operation that hackers use.”

About two weeks after the Treasury’s warning note, Liberty Reserve “went underground,” the indictment says, and continued to operate in Costa Rica using a “stripped-down staff working out of an office space held in the name of shell companies.” The defendants also allegedly tried soon after to drain their bank accounts.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


“US seizes top Bitcoin exchange as crackdown begins”

May 16, 2013

RT on May 15, 2013 released the following:

“The US Department of Homeland Security seized a payment processing account Tuesday belonging to Mt. Gox, the largest international Bitcoin trader, claiming the monetary exchange service falsified financial documents.

The American government has previously made it clear that officials are watching Bitcoin, a decentralized economic currency that international regulators have not yet been able to control. Many of those who favor Bitcoin use Dwolla, an Iowa-based startup that allows customers to transfer their dollars into Bitcoins.

Unfortunately for those consumers, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warrant Tuesday effectively shutting down Dwolla’s ability to process Bitcoin payments, as reported by CNET. Whether because of the DHS’ charge of operating an “unlicensed money transmitting business,” the sudden timing of the allegations, or another reason, Dwolla and Mt. Gox officials have been reluctant to comment.

“In order not to compromise this ongoing investigation being conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore, we cannot comment beyond the information in warrant, which was filed in the District of Maryland [Tuesday],” said Nicole Navas, a representative for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The warrant claims Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles did not disclose he operated a financial transfer site when he opened a new bank account for the business. Money transmitting services, according to Gawker, are required to register with the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen). Mt. Gox, which is involved in roughly 63 per cent of all Bitcoin purchases, has not done so.

Despite the technicalities skeptics are wondering if Bitcoin’s friction with the Treasury department is the cause of this recent scrutiny. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said the anonymity afforded by the service provided an “online form of money laundering” and campaigned for its downfall.

“Literally, it allows buyers and users to sell illegal drugs online, including heroin, cocaine, and meth, and users do sell by hiding their identity through a program that makes them virtually untraceable,” Schumer said during a 2011 news conference. “It’s a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen. It’s more brazen than anything else by light years.”

Most notably, proponents have asserted that Bitcoin would be impermeable in instances where WikiLeaks, for example, saw its funding evaporate as the federal government pressured PayPal to cut off the whistleblower site’s support network. Bitcoin would be more resistant to a crackdown of that nature.

Jerry Brito, a scholar at the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told the Washington Post Bitcoin could reduce the cost of financial services by pioneering new business formats.

“Bitcoin has the potential to be a boon to the economy and a boon to merchants,” he said, adding that it could “disrupt traditional payment networks that have not been innovative for a very long time.”

A blind governmental crackdown would only serve to push Bitcoin further underground, Brito argued.

“You can’t put the genie back into the bottle,” he continued. “I hate to say it, but the Bitcoin community needs to start lobbying. It needs to start educating policymakers, lobbyists and influencers about the pros of Bitcoin and the impossibility or the difficulty in getting rid of all the bad uses.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.