Silk Road Fallout: 5 More Charged in the UK with Deep Web Crimes
Including "PlutoPete," who claims to have only sold legal goods.
Image: Ernest Figueras/Flickr
Fallout from the Silk Road shutdown is still ongoing, despite the site being seized by the FBI back in 2013. Five people in the UK have been charged today, all of which were connected to the deep web.
Notably, one of those charged is "PlutoPete," aka 53-year-old Peter Ward, who claims to have only sold legal goods when he worked as a vendor on the original Silk Road. These included herbal highs, flavored rolling papers, pipes, and general drugs paraphernalia. He also sold cannabis seeds, which are legal in the UK as long as they are unfertilised.
Ward has been charged with nine crimes: two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, and another for Class B, as well as six other charges relating to the supply and importation of Class A, B and C drugs, a National Crime Agency spokesperson told me.
However, Ward claims to have only sold only legal goods when he worked as a vendor on the original Silk Road. These included herbal highs, flavored rolling papers, pipes, and general drugs paraphernalia. He also sold cannabis seeds, which are legal in the UK as long as they are unfertilised.
"Everything I sell is legal," he told Channel 4 News in a filmed interview shortly after his arrest in October 2013. "I've got a Facebook page; there's nothing secret about what I do. A lot of people do it." Ward continued to sell his products through his clearnet website after the Silk Road closure, and vowed to bring legal action against the FBI for seizing his allegedly legitimately earned bitcoins.
In the sleepy British countryside, Ward was arrested by local law enforcement only hours after Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road's convicted leader, was busted in a San Francisco library.
"The FBI were in charge of the raid," he told me in a phone interview conducted for another story before he was charged. "The FBI were controlling it all by telephone."
"Packaging is what we suspect was the reason," he added. Targeting Ward may have yielded valuable intelligence on other vendors, as he provided packaging to some of the larger drug dealers. "They could have thought I had a list of my bulk customers," Ward said.
"His business was apparently legal, but police did obtain the names of a handful of vendors to whom Pete was shipping supplies," according to the Daily Dot, which covered Ward's arrest at the time. (Update: Ward denies that any vendors names' were obtained.)
Another potential reason for the raid was that "they possibly thought I was Variety Jones," Ward added. Variety Jones is a mysterious figure from the Silk Road. This user was the one who originally came up with the idea for the Dread Pirate Roberts pseudonym, and who mentored the owner of Silk Road in the site's early days.
"He was a UK seed seller," Ward continued, "and I started listing my seeds literally just as he stopped."
But now, Ward is being charged with a variety of crimes that are certainly not related to selling legal wares. Ward, however, is hopeful these charges won't amount to any conviction for him. "i'm confidant i'll beat them :)," he tweeted.
After identifying the location of the site's server, law enforcement imaged it, allowing them to see all private messages which weren't encrypted. At the moment it is unclear whether this sort of evidence is what led to Ward being charged, but that approach was used heavily in the conviction of Ross Ulbricht.
A 29-year-old man from the UK was also charged today, a National Crime Agency spokesperson told me. His 11 charges include the possession of four stun guns which were disguised as other weapons; conspiring with Peter Ward to supply a quantity of cannabis; and another charge of the importation of cocaine.
Another three people were charged with drug offenses. They are 29-year-old Cei William Owens, charged with supplying Class A and B drugs; and 59-year-old Robin Clinton Bradshaw and 58-year-old Elynedd Ann Owens, each charged with possession of Class A and B drugs. They are all residents of the Aberdovey area of Wales.
The NCA spokesperson would not reveal whether these people were involved with Silk Road or another drug market. However, three people matching those ages were arrested in November 2014 in connection with Silk Road 2.0, according to the BBC.
This latest development shows that law enforcement are not going to stop at simply shutting down deep web sites.