The arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind Silk Road, the world’s largest online drug marketplace, was only the beginning. Over the last few days, authorities have busted eight others accused of selling drugs on Silk Road, including a couple behind one of the site’s top drug dealers.
Steven Lloyd Sadler and Jenna M. White, from Bellevue, Wash., were arrested last week, but their arrest was first reported by the Bellevue Reporter on Monday.
The two are allegedly behind the Silk Road vendor “NOD,” which a criminal complaint (.PDF) claims was one of the largest users on the site. NOD had more than 1,400 customer reviews and sold more than 2,600 grams of cocaine, nearly 600 grams of heroin and 105 grams of methamphetamine in just the last four months of operations on Silk Road. By comparison, Silk Road’s dealer “Angelina,” who Mashable interviewed before the site was shut down, had 1,000 reviews from buyers.
Just a few hours after Ulbricht’s arrest in a San Francisco library, police in the UK arrested four men, one in his early 50s from Devon, and three other in their 20s from Manchester, all on suspicion on supplying drugs on Silk Road. The British National Crime Agency arrested them with the help of the FBI, a bureau spokesperson told Mashable.
Two Swedes were also reportedly arrested for selling cannabis on the online black market, according to an article published on Tuesday. This brings the total arrests to eight (that we know of so far).
Sadler, 40, and White, were accused of selling heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and it seems they were arrested independently of the Ulbricht investigation. The complaint makes no mention of Ulbricht, and an FBI spokesperson only admitted the feds involvement in the arrests in the UK. Moreover, Sadler and White were only linked to Silk Road late in the investigation. It appears that the couple was busted by old-fashioned police work, rather than online sleuthing.
On Sept. 18, 2012, U.S. Postal Service Inspector Willyerd intercepted a package containing heroin — the same time that another inspector intercepted one containing $3,200 in cash. The two similarly-sized packages bore similar handwriting and the same type of stamp.
In the following days, a few similar packages containing drugs were intercepted, thanks to drug-sniffing dogs and parcel searches. Based on the return addresses and names on some of the packages, the investigators located several postal boxes at different UPS stores under the names of either “Aaron Thompson” or “Edward Harlow.”
Then, in December, employees at the Riverton Heights Post Office in SeaTac, Wash., who were told to keep an eye out for suspicious packages similar to the ones intercepted a few months prior, noticed a “blonde female” dropping packages with the same handwriting and postage stamps that looked like those on the packages containing drugs. The woman was also seen driving an Audi, and through the car’s license plate, investigators identified the man who leased it: Steven Adler.
Willyerd showed pictures of Sadler and the “blonde female” to employees at two UPS stores. In one, the employees recognized Adler as none other than Aaron Thompson, and said the blonde woman was his girlfriend. The employees in the other store recognized him as Edward Harlow. Now the police had evidence that Harlow and Thompson were just fake names that Adler used as covers.
After conducting surveillance on Adler’s home in Bellevue, Wash., police spotted a blonde woman and identified her as Jenna White.
A Covert Mission
Six months after the first intercepted package, investigators stumbled upon a connection to Silk Road. On March 11, 2013, they intercepted yet another package containing 1.48 grams of heroin and 1.45 grams of cocaine. The package was addressed to someone in Alaska. The police tracked down the recipient and interrogated him. The subject of the investigation agreed to cooperate with authorities in exchange for reduced felony charges, and said he had ordered the drugs from a Silk Road dealer with the username NOD.
At that point, the feds only had to prove that the people behind NOD were indeed Sadler and White.
To do so, police installed GPS tracking devices on the two cars used by Sadler and White on May 14, 2013. From that day until June 19, Sadler and White drove to 38 different post offices in the Seattle area. On June 4, Willyerd and Department of Homeland Security special agent Christopher Armstrong, who was the author of that criminal complaint on NOD, tailed White on her way to a post office in Bellevue. After White entered and exited, Willyerd and Armstrong went to inspect the packages dropped off at the office. That’s when they spotted three packages addressed in White’s handwriting.
Finally, acting undercover on Silk Road under the account of a “confidential informant,” the agents made two separate drug purchases from NOD. They intercepted the first one, ordered on June 12, but they couldn’t see White or Sadler drop it off — Sadler was apparently on the road.
However, they had better luck with the second purchase of two grams of cocaine, made on July 8. That day, they tailed White again and saw her go to a post office in Seattle. After she exited the building, the agents retrieved a package with her handwriting — addressed to the location provided by the cops who had made the purchase on Silk Road.
When Willyerd and Armstrong opened the package, they found two grams of cocaine.
On Oct. 2, the day Armstrong filed the official complaint, Sadler was arrested, according to court documents. White surrendered the following day.
Sadler and White were released from custody while they wait for their preliminary hearings, set for Oct. 15 and 17, respectively.
These arrests seem to suggest that the operation against Silk Road is larger than previously known, and this could only be the tip of the iceberg. British authorities have said that the arrests of the four UK dealers is just the beginning and there are more to come.
“These arrests send a clear message to criminals; the hidden internet isn’t hidden and your anonymous activity isn’t anonymous,” said Keith Bristow, the National Crime Agency’s director general, in a statement. “We know where you are, what you are doing and we will catch you. It is impossible for criminals to completely erase their digital footprint. No matter how technology-savvy the offender, they will always make mistakes.”
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