An Irishman faces up to 20 years in prison in the United States after admitting his role in helping to run Silk Road, the dark web black market.
Gary Davis, 30, was extradited to the US in July after the Supreme Court approved the request. After initially pleading not guilty, Davis, from Kilpedder in Co Wicklow, began negotiations with prosecutors on a plea deal last month.
He was originally charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and conspiracy to commit money laundering, which could have carried a life sentence depending on the degree of the crimes charged.
At a district court in New York on Friday he admitted one charge of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Geoffrey Berman, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Davis had admitted his role under the pseudonym “Libertas” as an employee of Ross Ulbricht, who set up Silk Road. Ulbricht, 34, who is serving a life sentence in the US, is believed to have made $18 million profit on the estimated $1.2 billion transactions on the site.
“Davis’s arrest, extradition from Ireland, and conviction should send a clear message: the purported anonymity of the dark web is not a protective shield from prosecution,” Mr. Berman said.
A scanned image of Davis’s passport was found on Ulbricht’s laptop, alongside a log which showed that “Libertas” was paid $1,500 in bitcoin every week for dealing with queries from vendors and organizing drugs for sale on the site, which could only be accessed using special software, into categories.
Silk Road has been referred to as the Amazon of darknet websites. Buyers could leave ratings on sellers to indicate the speed of delivery and quality of the products. Since being shut down by the FBI after an elaborate and extensive investigation, it has become the template for darknet sites.
On December 20, 2013, raids took place at Davis’s home and at properties of two other men whom the FBI linked to Silk Road after retrieving information from Ulbricht’s computer.
Peter Nash, 45, from Brisbane, Australia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served after spending 17 months in jail in 2015.
Andrew Michael Jones, 28, from Virginia, pleaded guilty in October 2014 as part of an agreement to act as a witness in Ulbricht’s trial but was not called. He is awaiting sentencing.
Davis fought his extradition to the US on the basis that he would not receive the treatment he required for Asperger’s syndrome. He has one previous conviction in Ireland from June 2015, when he pleaded guilty to having just under €10,000 worth of cannabis for supply. He was given a three-year suspended sentence.
A letter from the state attorney’s office on August 3 advised the district court that Davis’s case was connected to Ulbricht’s and that of Roger Thomas Clark, 55, a Canadian citizen who was extradited from Thailand in June.
In a statement made to The Times by encrypted email in 2016, when the High Court originally ordered his extradition, Davis described the prison where he would be held, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, as the Guantanamo Bay of New York.
Throughout the four years of hearings, Ireland did not accept the medical evidence that Davis’s Asperger’s syndrome was too severe for him to face trial in the US. It emerged during a High Court hearing in 2015 that Mr. Davis had not had the condition diagnosed until after his arrest.
Remy Farrell, representing the Irish attorney-general, told the court that Mr. Davis had “a mild case of Asperger’s brought on by a bad case of extradition”.
Behind the Story
Silk Road was a criminal enterprise that made use of technology in a way no other had done before (Aaron Rogan writes).
The identity of Ross Ulbricht, the founder, was unknown even to his lieutenants. That anonymity was lifted when he was arrested in San Francisco in 2013 after an FBI investigation.
Because his laptop was open when he was arrested, investigators had access to the inner workings of the Silk Road. This included a scanned passport belonging to Gary Davis in the small village of Kilpedder, Co Wicklow.
Using the chat logs between Ulbricht and his staff, investigators worked out that Davis, whose pseudonym was Libertas, was Irish. His role and weekly pay of $1,500 in bitcoin were in notes on Ulbricht’s laptop.
When gardaí raided Davis’s bedroom in 2013 it was claimed they seized €180,000 in bitcoin. Davis told his extradition case he was obsessed with currency and had bought 700 bitcoins in November 2011 using €2,000 of backdated social welfare payments.
“I don’t know how they roped me into it,” he told a psychiatrist in an interview used as part of his claim that his Asperger’s syndrome was too severe for him to be extradited to a US prison. He said that he had shared his passport to join a bitcoin exchange and this is how it must have ended up on Ulbricht’s computer.
An FBI investigator on the case told The Times in 2016 that Davis was being primed to take over from Ulbricht within months. Libertas had responsibility for dealing with queries from vendors and organizing the drugs for sale on the site into categories. He also enjoyed a close, if anonymous, personal relationship with Ulbricht, a lead agent on the case said.