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UT Dallas Grad Accused Of Organizing Billion-Dollar Black Market Drug Bazaar

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LinkedIn profile

A University of Texas at Dallas graduate is accused of operating a vast black market bazaar that brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services, according to court papers released Wednesday.

A criminal complaint in New York accused Ross William Ulbricht of being the mastermind and charged him with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering. A separate indictment in Maryland accused him in a failed murder-for-hire scheme.

Ulbricht, 29, apparently split his time between Austin and San Francisco.

The website, Silk Road, allowed users to anonymously browse through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like "Cannabis," "Psychedelics" and "Stimulants" before making purchases using the electronic currency Bitcoin. One listing for heroin promised buyers "all rock, no powder, vacuum sealed and stealth shipping," and had a community forum below where one person commented, "Quality is superb."

The website protected users by making it “practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites,” court papers said. It’s called the deep web.

Here’s an explanation of how it works.

Federal authorities shut the site down and arrested Ulbricht on Tuesday afternoon in a branch of San Francisco's public library. Ulbricht was online on his laptop chatting with a cooperating witness about Silk Road when FBI agents from New York and San Francisco took him into custody, authorities said.

Ulbricht announced in a website forum last year that to avoid confusion he needed to change his Silk Road username, court papers said. He wrote, "drum roll please ... my new name is: Dread Pirate Roberts," an apparent reference to a swashbuckling character in "The Princess Bride," the 1987 comedy film based on a novel of the same name.

Ulbricht's LinkedIn profile lists him as an investment adviser and entrepreneur.

KUT Radio in Austin has more details.

So does NPR.

More about Ulbricht’s background and life in Austin from The Washington Post.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees keranews.org, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.