A San Francisco man accused of running a resurrected version of a black market website known as Silk Road made a brief appearance in federal court today and will return to court Friday for a detention hearing. Blake Benthall, 26, was arrested in San Francisco on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan in New York City. Prosecutors in that office have charged Benthall in federal court in Manhattan with conspiring to commit drug trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fake identification, and money laundering.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Jerika Richardson said Benthall made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco this morning and will return to her court Friday for a detention hearing to determine whether he should be kept in custody while being transferred to New York and awaiting trial.
In a criminal complaint filed in the federal court in New York, FBI agent Vincent D’Agostino alleged that since late December of last year, Benthall has been running Silk Road 2.0, a revived version of a website that sold illegal drugs, false identities and computer hacking services online. The original version of Silk Road was shut down after authorities arrested the alleged operator, Ross Ulbricht, in a San Francisco public library branch on Oct. 1, 2013. Ulbricht is awaiting trial in New York. The criminal complaint alleges that another person known as DPR2 launched the new version of the website in November 2013 and that Benthall, using the moniker “Defcon,” took over in late December.
The FBI complaint alleges that Benthall maintained the hardware and software for the website, managed a small team of online administrators and collected “massive profits generated from the business.” The site was generating at least $8 million per month in sales and $400,000 in commissions as of October, according to the complaint. The complaint said during the investigation, an underground agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was able to infiltrate into the inner circle of the site’s administrators.
The website operated on the Tor network, which makes tracking Internet users extremely difficult by redirecting information through a relay network, according to the FBI. The system allows for the creation of websites hidden from anyone not using the Tor network, including Silk Road and its offshoots, sprawling markets using Bitcoin as currency that facilitate anonymous sales, including of drugs. If convicted of all charges, Benthall could face a sentence of life in prison.
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