US charges three more people in Silk Road website case

NEW YORK (AFP) - United States (US) authorities said on Friday three more people were charged in connection with the operation of Silk Road, the online black market bazaar for drugs, hacker tools and other illicit goods.

The Justice Department said an indictment was unsealed in New York for the three, following the arrest of the alleged mastermind of Silk Road in October in San Francisco.

Officials said the individuals in the indictment are Andrew Michael Jones, 24, a Virginia resident; Gary Davis, 25, of Wicklow, Ireland; and Peter Phillip Nash, 40, of Brisbane, Australia.

Nash was arrested in Australia and Jones in Virginia, officials said. Davis is believed to be in Ireland, according to the Justice Department.

The news blog TechCrunch reported earlier on Friday than one person was arrested in Ireland in connection with the investigation.

The three face charges of money laundering, drug trafficking and conspiracy for their alleged roles as moderators of Silk Road.

Officials in October arrested Ross William Ulbricht, who was said to be "Dread Pirate Roberts", the website's mastermind.

Ulbricht, who is awaiting trial in New York, has denied the charges and also claims he is not "Dread Pirate Roberts". Last month, a message appeared on the social media site Reddit claiming Silk Road had reopened weeks after it was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The message was signed "Dread Pirate Roberts". The message said Silk Road had implemented "a complete security overhaul" to keep the marketplace out of the reach of authorities.

The site is accessible only through online encryption offered via a service known as Tor.

Federal agents announced on Oct 2 they had shut down the website, which used privacy-protecting Tor and Bitcoin digital currency to shield the identities of buyers and sellers.

Authorities said that from about January 2011, Ulbricht ran a marketplace that hawked heroin, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine, as well as hacker tools such as software for stealing passwords or logging keystrokes on people's machines.

Silk Road took in commissions ranging from 8 per cent to 15 per cent of sales, raking in at least US$80 million (S$101 million) on more than US$1.2 billion worth of transactions, the criminal complaint estimated.

US Attorney Preet Bharara said the investigation is ongoing. He said US officials have received cooperation from authorities in Ireland, Iceland, Australia and France.