The man who mentored the mastermind responsible for the sprawling dark-web drug marketplace The Silk Road has been sentenced to 20 years in prison – after being arrested in Thailand back in 2015.
Roger Thomas Clark, 62, known online as ‘Variety Jones,’ was handed the sentence in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday, after being extradited to the US in 2018.
Federal charges filed against the aging Canadian national included conspiring distribute massive quantities of narcotics – to which pleaded guilty in 2020.
Prosecutors said those offenses arose out of his role as top adviser to Ross Ulbricht, the owner and operator of the ‘Silk Road’ online illicit black market.
During its height – and before Ulbricht’s arrest in 2013 – the darknet market website played home to millions of illicit transactions, including more than $183million in drug sales.
The man who mentored Ross Ulbricht (pictured) the mastermind responsible for the sprawling dark-web drug marketplace The Silk Road has been sentenced to 20 years in prison – after being arrested in Thailand back in 2015
Roger Thomas Clark, 62, known online as ‘Variety Jones,’ was handed the stern sentence at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Courthouse Monday
Now 39, Ulbricht, whose alias was ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ on the now-defunct forum, is already serving a life sentence for his part in the illegal bazaar.
Prior to his arrest – carried out by undercover FBI agents in a web café in San Francisco – Ulbricht described Clark as a ‘real mentor’.
During proceedings, prosecutors claimed he advised Ulbricht about a range of subjects pertaining to his digital empire – such as security vulnerabilities in the Silk Road site, technical infrastructure, and the rules that governed users and vendors.
Before fleeing overseas after his protégé was discovered, he also helped Ulbricht – a college educated Texan from an affluent family – engage in secrete promotion of the sordid site, including for the sale of narcotics.
The drugs sold on Silk Road included at least 82 kilograms of cocaine and 26 kilograms of heroin, according to the feds, and the sentence Clark was slapped with was the maximum he faced in accordance with his plea agreement.
For his role as Ulbricht’s ‘right-hand man’, he will now likely spend much of the rest of his life incarcerated – after fleeing overseas once his protégé was captured
Judge Sidney Stein chided Clark, a self-professed libertarian, in his sentencing statement Monday at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Courthouse.
‘[Clark] misguidedly turned his belief that drugs should be legal into material assistance for a criminal enterprise’, the jurist wrote, adding Clark was ‘clear-eyed and intentional’ during his exploits with Ulbricht.
‘These beliefs crossed over into patently illegal behavior.’
The online black market was shutdown in October 2013, when authorities seized the website and arrested Ulbricht at a San Francisco website after months of surveillance
Trial: This court sketch shows Ulbricht, to the far right, at his own sentencing hearing in 2015. For his role as Ulbricht’s ‘right-hand man’, Clark will now likely spend much of the rest of his life incarcerated – after fleeing overseas when his protégé was found out by the FBI
Clark, as prosecutors noted in their memo arguing for the two-decade sentence, served as more than Ulbricht’s right hand on the Silk Road, and even played a part in the failed murder plot that almost got him captured.
Apart from being Ulbricht’s lieutenant, he served as the site’s de facto security consultant, PR advisor, and protector, prosecutors said.
For instance, when a Silk Road staff member was suspected of stealing approximately $350,000 in Bitcoin from the site, Clark suggested to Ulbricht that Ulbricht commission a hit to take care of the alleged dissenter.
Ulbricht took the suggestion, and attempted to hire a triggerman online to do the deed – but failed to realize the the bitcoins had been allegedly stolen by rogue Secret Service agent.
Although the attempted murder-for-hire did not result in any harm to the intended target, Ulbricht paid the purported hitman $80,000 for the job.
Long thought to be a plot manufactured by the FBI, Monday’s proceedings revealed Clark to be the true culprit behind the sanctioned hit – which feds monitored but did not present as evidence before sentencing Ulbricht to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was not charged with murder.
Upon encountering Clark as a marijuana seeds dealer on the market, Ulbricht marveled how the older man was ‘the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far,’ according to Ulbricht’s journal.
‘He has advised me on many technical aspect of what we are doing, helped me speed up the site and squeeze more out of my current servers,’ Ulbricht wrote.
‘He also has helped me better interact with the community around Silk Road, delivering proclamations, handling troublesome characters, running a sale, changing my name, devising rules, and on and on.
‘He also helped me get my head straight regarding legal protection, cover stories, devising a will, finding a successor, and so on. He’s been a real mentor.’
For more than a year, that dynamic continue, with the pair combining their expertise to allow users to anonymously buy drugs and other illicit goods and generating over $214 million in sales in the process, prosecutors said.
Now 39, Ulbricht, whose alias was ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ on the now-defunct forum, is already serving a life sentence for his part in the illegal bazaar
The online black market was shutdown in October 2013, when authorities seized the website and arrested Ulbricht at a San Francisco website after months of surveillance.
Ulbricht operated the website under the alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to a character in the 1987 movie ‘The Princess Bride.’
The website relied on the Tor network, which lets users communicate anonymously, and accepted bitcoin as payment, which prosecutors said allowed users to conceal their identities and locations.
Prosecutors said Ulbricht, who grew up in Austin, Texas, took extreme steps to protect Silk Road, soliciting the murders of several people who posed a threat. No evidence exists the murders were carried out.
At trial, Joshua Dratel, his lawyer, said Ulbricht had indeed created what he intended as a ‘freewheeling, free market site’ where all but a few harmful items could be sold.
Dratel said Ulbricht handed off the website to others after it became too stressful, and was lured back toward its end to become the ‘fall guy’ for its true operators.
Before his sentencing, Ulbricht asked for a sentence that would leave a ‘small light at the end of the tunnel.’
He was slapped with a life sentence.
In the case of Clark’s 20-year sentence handed out Monday, Stein said: ‘The sentence must reflect the vast criminal enterprise of which he was a leader.’