A Canadian suspected of mentoring and advising the founder of the black market website Silk Road was extradited from Thailand to the United States on Friday, where he faces charges of online drug dealing and money laundering, among other offenses, U.S. authorities said.
Roger Thomas Clark, 56, arrived in New York after being turned over by Thai authorities, who held him in custody after arresting him in December 2015 at the request of American law enforcement officials, according to reports.
U.S. authorities shut down Silk Road, a so-called dark website, in October 2013. Its owner and operator, Ross William Ulbricht, was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison on a raft of criminal charges.
But while it was up and running, the site “was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to over a hundred thousand buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars derived from those unlawful transactions,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a statement Friday.
“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, who thanked the Royal Thai Police for its support and assistance in the case.
“Roger Thomas Clark allegedly served as a trusted confidante to Silk Road founder and operator Ross Ulbricht, advising him on all aspects of this illegal business, including how to maximize profits and use threats of violence to thwart law enforcement.”
Clark also hired and managed computer programmers for Silk Road who helped develop the website’s technical infrastructure, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged, adding that Clark had also gathered information on law enforcement efforts to investigate the site.
Silk Road enabled its users to purchase and sell drugs and other illegal goods and services anonymously and outside the reach of law enforcement, the office said.
“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,” the statement said.
Clark went by the online nicknames “Variety Jones,” “VJ,” “Cimon,” and “Plural of Mongoose,” and served as a “real mentor” and “right-hand man” to Ulbricht, U.S. officials alleged.
"Today’s extradition of Roger Clark shows that despite alleged attempts to operate under the radar, he was never out of our reach," said FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr.
The dark web is a term for content that exists on darknets, computer networks built on top of other networks that can be accessed only with specific software. Connections are re-routed through layers of servers, allowing users to remain anonymous. Sites on the dark web are not indexed, meaning online surfers will not see them by doing a Google search.
In Thailand last August, Thai authorities announced they had seized millions of dollars in assets belonging to the late founder of AlphaBay, which had replaced the shutdown Silk Road as the world’s most profitable dark web marketplace.
Thai officials said they had frozen 726 million baht (U.S. $21.73 million) in assets – from luxury vehicles to crypto-currency – owned by Alexander Joseph Cazes, a Canadian. He allegedly committed suicide on July 12, 2017 while in Thai custody before he was to be extradited to the United States.
According to an indictment unsealed on Friday in a Manhattan federal court, the charges against Clark include distributing narcotics via the internet, conspiracy in computer hacking and conspiracy in money-laundering, the statement said. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison, among other punishments.
Clark was taken to a Manhattan courtroom on Friday but did not seek bail, the Reuters news service reported.