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November 7, 2014

Third Silk Road chief arrested by FBI

Blake ‘Defcon’ Benthall faces life for role in ecommerce site for illegal services.

By Jimmy Nicholls

A man alleged to be the third chief of the online black market called Silk Road has been arrested and charged by the FBI in San Francisco, California.

Blake "Defcon" Benthall is accused of taking control of the dark net website known for facilitating the trade of drugs and other illegal services. This follows the arrest of Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht in October 2013, who is facing life in prison if convicted.

Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said: "As alleged, Blake Benthall attempted to resurrect Silk Road, a secret website that law enforcement seized last year, by running Silk Road 2.0, a nearly identical criminal enterprise.

"Let’s be clear — this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison. 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."

Silk Road must be accessed using the Tor anonymity network to protect the vendors of illegal goods and their customers, though the technology was rumoured to have been cracked by spooks earlier this year. Payment is made through the cryptocurrency Bitcoin for similar reasons.

As of September this year, according to figures submitted in court, the site had 150,00 active users and generated sales of at least $8m per month.

Peter Edge, executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), said: "Blake Benthall’s arrest ends his status as the alleged administrator of a website that allows illicit black-market activities to evolve and expand, and provides a safe haven for illegal vices."

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The FBI claims that the second iteration of Silk Road launched five weeks after the arrest of Ulbricht, and that as of October this year it mostly sold drugs, alongside fake IDs and hacking services.

After its relaunch the site was controlled by an individual operating under the "Dread Pirate Roberts" nickname used by Ulbricht, but control of the site is alleged to have passed to Benthall in late December.

Benthall is charged with conspiring to traffic drugs, hack computers, traffic false identity documents, launder money, and if convicted in relation to sale of narcotics could face life in prison. His arrest follows an undercover operation in which an HSI agent infiltrated the site’s support staff.

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