SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The San Francisco man accused of running a new version of the website known as an online black market for drugs made a brief court appearance Thursday in federal court in San Francisco.
26-year-old Blake Benthall agreed at the hearing to be transferred in custody to New York to face the charges there. His attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Daniel Blank, said outside the courtroom that Benthall will seek release on bail after he arrives in New York. “Once he gets to New York, he’ll be able to make a better pitch as to why he should be released,” Blank said.
Benthall did not speak during Thursday’s hearing.
The computer programmer was arrested in San Francisco Wednesday and according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, he has been charged with conspiring to commit drug trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fake identification, and money laundering.
“It’s been more than a year since the FBI made an arrest of the administrator of the black-market bazaar, Silk Road, and here we stand again, announcing the arrest of the creator and operator of Silk Road 2.0. Following a very close business model to the first, as alleged, Blake Benthall ran a website on the Tor network facilitating supposedly anonymous deals of drugs and illegal services generating millions of dollars in monthly sales,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos. “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.”
The criminal complaint alleges that in late December of last year, Benthall began running Silk Road 2.0, an underground website that sold illegal drugs, false identities and computer hacking services online.
The original version of Silk Road was shut down after the arrest of the alleged mastermind behind the site, Ross Ulbricht, in a San Francisco public library on October 1, 2013. Ulbricht is still awaiting trial in New York.
The criminal complaint alleges that another person known as DPR2 launched the new version of Silk Road on November 6, 2013, five weeks after the arrest of Ulbricht, who had used the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. FBI Agent Vincent D’Agostino wrote that Benthall, using the moniker “Defcon,” emerged as an administrator a week later and took over the site on or around December 28.
The complaint alleges that Benthall maintained the hardware and software for the website, managed a small team of online administrators and collected “massive profits generated from the business.” The site was generating at least $8 million per month in sales and $400,000 in the 5 percent commissions charged as of October, according to the complaint.
According to the FBI, the website operated on the Tor network, which makes tracking Internet users extremely difficult by redirecting information through a relay network. The system allows for the creation of websites hidden from anyone not using the Tor network, including Silk Road and its offshoots, sprawling markets using Bitcoin as currency that facilitate anonymous sales, including of drugs.
If convicted of all charges, Benthall could face a sentence of life in prison.
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