NEW YORK – The alleged operator of a second version of the Silk Road online black market bazaar for drugs and money laundering has been arrested and charged on multiple counts, prosecutors said Thursday.
Blake Benthall was arrested by FBI agents in San Francisco on Wednesday and is to appear before Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in a US federal court in the Californian city on Thursday.
The 26-year-old is charged with conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in forged documents and money laundering conspiracy.
US prosecutors say Silk Road 2.0 enabled more than 100,000 people to buy and sell illegal drugs and other contraband anonymously over the Internet after its predecessor was shut down in 2013.
They claim it was used to distribute hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs and goods with around 150,000 active users all over the world, generating sales of $8 million a month by September.
Silk Road announced last November it had reopened, a month after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation originally took down the website.
Its alleged original mastermind, Ross William Ulbricht, is awaiting trial in New York and denies charges against him. US prosecutors allege Benthall owned and ran the new operation since December 2013.
“This Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison,” said Manhattan federal prosecutor Preet Bharara. “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.”
Prosecutors described Silk Road 2.0 as one of the most extensive, sophisticated and widely used criminal online marketplaces.
It was virtually identical to its predecessor and accessible only through online encryption offered via a service known as Tor.
Law enforcement authorities in Britain, France, Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands were also involved in the investigation.