The Alleged Silk Road Mastermind Teaches Us All How Not to Hire a Hit Man

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Oct. 2 2013 6:39 PM

The Alleged Silk Road Mastermind Teaches Us All How Not to Hire a Hit Man

gun
This is a gun. Don't hire someone on the Internet to use one on your behalf.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

In the criminal complaint against Ross William Ulbricht, aka “Dread Pirate Roberts,” the 29-year-old San Francisco man accused of running a massive online illegal marketplace called Silk Road, authorities allege that Ulbricht attempted to arrange the murder of a man who had threatened to reveal personal data about Silk Road users. This apparently wasn’t Ulbricht’s first dalliance with assassination; online records indicate that, while arranging the hit, Ulbricht noted that “not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k.”

A new charge against Ulbricht now provides details of that “clean hit,” which, as it turns out, was neither clean nor a hit. An indictment from the U.S. District Court in Maryland alleges that, in January 2013, Ulbricht attempted to arrange the murder of a former employee who had recently been arrested by the feds. Unfortunately for him, the “assassin” he tried to hire was an undercover federal agent.

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According to the indictment, Ulbricht sent the agent $40,000 up front; once the hit was “confirmed” by means of an elaborately staged photograph, Ulbricht sent him another $40,000. Ulbricht’s alleged response to the photograph is dripping with irony:

After receiving the photograph, ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a/k/a “DPR,” stated that “I’m pissed I had to kill him … but what’s done is done[,]” and that “I just can’t believe he was so stupid[,] … I just wish more people had some integrity[.]”

The incompetence here is staggering. I won’t bother talking about how someone so obviously smart in a technological sense could be so gullible in other regards. But I will offer two pieces of advice that everyone—Internet drug baron or not—would do well to heed. First, a bloody photograph does not count as proof that someone has been killed. Second, if you try to arrange a murder online, you should automatically assume that your contact is an undercover government agent. As such, you should never try to arrange a murder online. It will just end up with you getting arrested, and the entire world laughing at you.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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