FBI agents have apprehended 29-year old Ross Willian Ulbricht, operator of the secret Silk Road website that brokered transactions worth billions of dollars for illegal drugs and services, from a San Francisco public library.
Ulbright was on his personal laptop chatting and, talking online about the vast black market bazaar, when a half-dozen FBI agents burst into the library located in a quiet neighbourhood.
Ulbricht was later slapped with criminal complaints in federal courts in New York and Maryland on accusations of making millions of dollars operating the website and of a failed murder-for-hire scheme. The website was shut down by federal authorities.
Ulbricht has not entered pleas to any of his charges and no comment was forthcoming from his public defender in San Francisco yesterday
Ulbricht would be back in San Francisco federal court tomorrow to discuss bail and his transfer to New York, where the bulk of the charges had been filed.
The charges against him in New York include being the mastermind of Silk Road, where users could browse anonymously through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like "Cannabis," "Psychedelics" and "Stimulants."
He is also charged in Maryland with first ordering the torture, and then the murder, of an employee from an undercover agent.
Before it was shutdown this week by the US, the website was a cyber-bazaar of the criminal underworld that connected buyers and sellers of heroin, cocaine and hacking services.
It featured EBay-style customer reviews as also shipping tips in flagrant disregard of the law.
According to a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court, Ulbright, who called himself Dread Pirate Roberts, said in a message posted on the site on 5 August, 2011, ''We are happy to announce a new category in the marketplace called Forgeries.''
Ulbright said, ''In this category, you will find offers for forged, government issued documents including fake IDs and passports.''
According to the complaint, Silk Road used Bitcoin digital currency to generate the equivalent of $1.2 billion in illicit sales and take in $80 million in commissions in less than three years, according to the complaint.
FBI agents described the site as ''the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet,'' in their complaint.
Ulbricht's business, which, according to prosecutors was ''a sprawling black-market bazaar,'' had almost 13,000 listings in late September for illegal drugs, including categories for cannabis, dissociatives, ecstasy, intoxicants, opioids, precursors, psychedelics the complaint stated.
Under its ''services'' heading, users could hire computer hackers, buy instructions for hacking cash machines or counterfeit money, guns, as also stolen credit card information and hit men.