WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities have put an end to an online black market for illegal drugs known as "Silk Road."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down the website and on Tuesday arrested its suspected mastermind - 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht - in San Francisco, California.
In a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New York, FBI agent Christopher Tarbell called Silk Road "the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today."
Ulbricht, known online as "Dread Pirate Roberts," faces charges in New York of conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering. He is also charged in Maryland with trying to hire someone to murder a former employee.
Site was a multi-purpose criminal enterprise
Authorities say thousands of drug dealers used Silk Road to distribute "hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs," such as heroin and cocaine.
Investigators also say the online bazaar sold services, including tools for online hackers and, even, murder-for-hire.
The FBI says the site had nearly 1 million registered users from around the world. It ran on an anonymous network called Tor and used the digital currency known as Bitcoin, making users' activity almost impossible to trace.
Silk Road took in an estimated $1.2 billion since it started in 2011, with Ulbricht collecting at least $80 million in commission.
The FBI spent two years investigating the operation and ended up catching Ulbricht largely through his online activities. During the investigation, federal agents posed as buyers on the site, successfully ordering a range of illegal goods.
On his profile on the job networking site LinkedIn, Ulbricht, originally from Austin, Texas, said he holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas and attended graduate school in Pennsylvania. He described himself online as a follower of libertarian economic philosophy.
Ulbright said one of his goals was ending what he called government "coercion and aggression" and that his activities were aimed at giving people a first-hand experience of "a world without the systemic use of force."
If convicted, Ulbright could spend the rest of his life in prison.