Silk Road 2.0 Right-Hand Man Pleads Guilty

Brian Farrell was identified by Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute's attack on the Tor network.

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Mar 22 2016, 3:40pm

Image: Alberto Ruggieri/Getty

The second iteration of the Silk Road drug marketplace was shuttered in November 2014, almost exactly a year after it opened. Now, 17 months later, the right hand man of that website has accepted a plea agreement in a district court in the Western District of Washington.

Brian Farrell has formally admitted to being "DoctorClu," a staff member of Silk Road 2.0 who provided customer and technical support, approved vendors, and promoted other employees, according to a court document filed earlier this month.

"You're not going to find much of a bigger fish than me."

Farrell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. This charge did not stem from Farrell directly vending these products, but because of his staff position on Silk Road 2.0, which acted as a platform for drug dealers to push their wares.

The statutory penalties for that offense include imprisonment from five to 40 years, and a fine of up to $5,000,000. But both parties have agreed to recommend a sentence of eight years in prison, according to the plea agreement.

"[Farrell] initially used SR2 to purchase drugs for personal use," the agreement continues. "After joining the site, [Farrell] led a 'denial-of-service-attack' on the Tor Market, a competitor to SR2."

"He also acted as the informal spokesperson for 'Defcon,' the head of SR2," the document reads. Defcon took control of the site from Dread Pirate Roberts 2.

Farrell was arrested in Seattle in January of last year. It later emerged he had been one of the dark web criminal suspects identified by Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Software Engineering Institute's (SEI) attack on the Tor network.

SEI researchers managed to identify the real IP addresses of a number of Tor hidden services, including that of Silk Road 2.0, as well as hidden service users, and the FBI then subpoenaed SEI for this information.

SEI identified around 78 IP addresses that accessed the vendor .onion address for Silk Road 2.0, according to Farrell's search warrant. One of these led to Farrell.

In December, two men in Ireland perhaps identified in the same attack were jailed for drug offensives, and last month Gabriel Peterson-Siler, a pedophile whose IP address was obtained by SEI, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography.

When Farrell was interviewed by FBI agents shortly before his arrest, he reportedly said "You're not going to find much of a bigger fish than me." Despite that apparent admission, Farrell's defense has been pushing for more access to discovery evidence, and in particular communications between the Department of Justice and SEI.

Now, with both Farrell and Peterson-Siler having pleaded guilty, it seems much less likely that more information about SEI's attack on Tor will come out of the courts.

Farrell is due to be sentenced on June 3.