Senior advisor of the “Silk Road” website pleads guilty in Manhattan Federal Court
Roger Thomas Clark was a key figure in the development of Silk Road, advised Ross Ulbricht on all aspects of the criminal enterprise, urged and facilitated an attempted murder-for-hire
NEW YORK – Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Roger Thomas Clark, aka “Plural of Mongoose,” aka “Variety Jones,” aka “VJ,” aka “cimon,” pled guilty today to conspiring to distribute massive quantities of narcotics, a charge arising out of his role as the senior adviser to the owner and operator of the “Silk Road” online illicit black market. During its operation from 2011 until 2013, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to more than 100,000 buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars derived from those unlawful transactions. Clark pled guilty before United States District Judge William H. Pauley III.
“Silk Road was a secret online marketplace for illegal drugs, hacking services, and a whole host of other criminal activity," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. "Roger Thomas Clark was a central figure in helping to lead Silk Road and in advocating violence to protect the site. Clark even went so far as to urge, and facilitate, the attempted killing of a co-conspirator suspected of stealing from Silk Road. Clark’s arrest, extradition from Thailand, and conviction should make it clear that the purported anonymity of the dark web is not a protective shield from prosecution.”
According to the allegations in the Superseding Indictment, court filings, statements made in court, and evidence presented during the 2015 trial of Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road’s founder:
Ulbricht created Silk Road in approximately January 2011, and owned and operated the underground website until it was shut down by law enforcement authorities in October 2013. Silk Road emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet at the time, serving as a sprawling black market bazaar where unlawful goods and services, including illegal drugs of virtually all varieties, were bought and sold regularly by the site’s users. While in operation, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services to well over 100,000 buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from these unlawful transactions.
Silk Road enabled its users to buy and sell drugs and other illegal goods and services anonymously and outside the reach of law enforcement. Silk Road was operated on what is known as “The Onion Router,” or “Tor” network, a special network of computers on the Internet, distributed around the world, designed to conceal the true IP addresses of the computers on the network and thereby the identities of the networks’ users. Silk Road also included a Bitcoin-based payment system that served to facilitate the illegal commerce conducted on the site, including by concealing the identities and locations of the users transmitting and receiving funds through the site.
Clark – who went by the online nicknames “Variety Jones,” “VJ,” “Cimon,” “Plural of Mongoose,” and “CaptainSargeant” – was described by Ulbricht as a “real mentor” who advised Ulbricht about, among other things, security vulnerabilities in the Silk Road site, technical infrastructure, the rules that governed Silk Road users and vendors, and the promotion of sales on Silk Road, including the sales of narcotics. Clark also provided advice to Ulbricht on developing a “cover story” to make it appear as though Ulbricht had sold Silk Road. Clark also assisted with hiring programmers to help improve the infrastructure of, and maintain, Silk Road. Clark also was responsible for gathering information on law enforcement’s efforts to investigate Silk Road. And Clark advised Ulbricht on how to protect the Silk Road empire. For instance, when a Silk Road staff member was suspected of stealing $350,000 in Bitcoin from the site, Clark suggested to Ulbricht that Ulbricht commission a murder-for-hire. Ulbricht took that suggestion. (Ultimately, unbeknownst to both men, the attempted murder-for-hire did not result in any harm to the target.)
Clark was paid at least hundreds of thousands of dollars for his assistance in operating Silk Road.
Clark, 56, a citizen of Canada, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. Clark is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Pauley on May 29, 2020, at 11:00 a.m.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding joint efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation’s New York Field Office, Homeland Security Investigations Chicago-O’Hare, and the New York Strike Force, a crime-fighting unit comprising federal, state and local law enforcement agencies supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The Strike Force is housed at the DEA’s New York Division and includes agents and officers of the DEA; the New York City Police Department; the New York State Police; Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations; the U. S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; New York National Guard; the Clarkstown Police Department; U.S. Coast Guard; Port Washington Police Department; and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Mr. Berman also thanked the HSI Attaché Bangkok, Thailand, for its assistance and support. Mr. Berman also thanked the Royal Thai Police and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for their support and assistance.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael D. Neff, Vladislav Vainberg, and Eun Young Choi are in charge of the prosecution.