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US court sentences prominent Silk Road hacker for lying to Feds

59-year-old computer programmer Michael Weigand has been sentenced to eight months in prison in the US for lying to law enforcement authorities about the active role he played in the running of Silk Road, a prominent dark web marketplace that was active till 2013.

Weigand participated in running Silk Road operations under the codename Shabang and was considered to be close to Ross Ulbricht, the founder and chief administrator of Silk Road, and Roger Thomas Clark, Ulbricht’s senior advisor, and right-hand man.

On Friday, a U.S. District Judge sentenced Weigand to eight months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after he was found guilty of laundering Silk Road proceeds, supplying technological advice directly to the leadership of Silk Road, destroying evidence of Clark’s association with the underground network, and for lying to IRS and FBI agents about his relationship with Silk Road.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Weigand worked with Roger Clark to identify technical vulnerabilities in the Silk Road website, laundered more than $75,000 in Silk Road proceeds after the network was forced to shut down in 2013, and tried to help Clark remove all evidence of his association with Silk Road after Ulbricht’s laptop was seized by federal agents.

In 2015, Ulbricht, the founder and administrator of Silk Road, was sentenced to a double life sentence plus forty years after a court found him guilty for “distributing narcotics, distributing narcotics by means of the Internet, conspiring to distribute narcotics, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in false identity documents, and conspiring to commit money laundering.”

Thomas Clark, who served as Ulbricht’s right-hand man and laundered Silk Road proceeds, had also pled guilty to conspiring to distribute narcotics and is facing a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

Earlier this year, 24-year-old British hacker Thomas White was also sentenced to five years and four months in prison by the Liverpool Crown Court for working as an administrator of Silk Road to anonymously sell drugs, computer hacking tools, and other illegal goods.

White was initially an administrator of Silk Road but after the FBI shut down the site, he launched another site known as Silk Road 2.0 and ran it from November 2013 to March 2014. Through this website, White arranged the sales and purchases of illegal drugs, computer hacking tools, as well as images of child sexual abuse.

According to the National Crime Agency, Silk Road 2.0 was so popular among drug peddlers, paedophiles, and hackers that around 96 million dollars’ worth of goods were traded on the site in just a few months. White earned a lot of money in the period by charging between 1 and 5% commission on each sale from thousands of customers.

White was first arrested in November 2014 and then again in early 2017 when NCA found clinching evidence concerning his involvement in the sale of illegal drugs, hacking tools, and child sex images. In his computers, NCA investigators found 64 category A (the most severe) indecent images of children and 50 bitcoins with a current value of around £192,000.

NCA also recovered vast amounts of data from his computers that included “data hacked from the FBI, NASA, the FBI, users’ details from Ashley Madison, a website billed as enabling extramarital affairs, the database of the US Fraternal Order of the Police – the equivalent of the UK’s Police Federation – and customer details of UK broadband provider TalkTalk”.

“Thomas White and his online associates believed they could use the dark web to anonymously commit crimes with impunity. But this case shows that those who try to hide behind the apparent security of anonymising software will be identified and brought to justice,” said Ian Glover from the National Crime Agency.

“White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy. He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down. We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation. Close working with American partners in the FBI, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice has resulted in the takedown of global illegal drug empires and the targeting of associated money laundering, primarily involving crypto-currencies.

“This has been a complex, international investigation and follows previous investigations led by the NCA into dark web criminality, and working with our international partners, the UK is fast becoming an increasingly hostile environment for dark web crime,” Glover added.

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