Authorities have arrested a 42-year-old man on charges of drug trafficking linked to Silk Road, a now-defunct darknet market which was shut down by the FBI in 2013.
The police obtained a warrant and arrested James Ellingson, the suspect, in Vancouver.
His charges included money laundering conspiracy from 2011 to 2013, conspiracy for the importation of narcotics and conspiracy to violate the U.S. laws on narcotics.
He is also suspected to be connected to a murder-for-hire plot supposedly commissioned by the founder and head admin of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road Exchange
The authorities linked Ellingson to these alleged crimes reviewing their investigation of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road.
The evidence indicated that Ellingson allegedly sold illegal drugs through the darknet marketplace, some of which included heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Earlier this month, Justice Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten released Ellingson on bail.
The U.S., however, had requested that he remains in custody since he had a criminal record within this jurisdiction. Ellingson had allegedly earned a profit of $2 million from the online sale of illicit drugs.
The Participants in the Silk Road Case
The U.S. authorities apprehended Ulbricht in October 2013. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment two years later.
Ulbricht’s arrest paved the way for a thorough investigation of the Silk Road network. The FBI seized the primary servers from Iceland and backup servers from the U.S. that they associated to Silk Road.
According to a November 2 court filing, the judge quoted an affidavit stating that the servers contained databases with transactional records for Silk Road.
Additionally, these servers had private messages which the authorities suspected to be between Silk Road users.
The U.S. police associated Ellingson with the Silk Road case after discovering that he had used an online handle dubbed “Marijuanaismymuse” to communicate with Ulbricht.
According to the police, Ulbricht had paid Ellingson for his drug sales using Bitcoin.
The authorities discovered that there was a link between the online handle and two Bitcoin transactions to the same wallet.
The initial transaction took place in November 2011, while the second one occurred in October 2013.
The sale involved drugs such as MDMA, LSD, heroin, methamphetamine as well as marijuana.
The U.S. authorities launched an in-depth investigation and confiscation of records of Ellingson’s transactional dealings.
This investigation brought to light Bitcoin exchange accounts which he opened in May and August 2013.
Ellingson opened his initial Bitcoin account using his name and Vancouver address along with his identification. He used his email and driver’s license as well as a utility bill for his second account.
Furthermore, the authorities seized records from Google regarding Ellingson’s Gmail account.
According to the judge, the data that the police retrieved reflected an email dated September 23, 2013, with the username Marijuanaismymuse. The data also included a Silk Road account password.
Further, the records revealed notations of drug names, prices as well as weights consistent with data from the Silk Road server.
The Money Trail
According to U.S. investigators, Ulbricht communicated with Ellingson and sent him Bitcoin payments, which he received under the username “Redandwhite”—a separate identity from the Marijuanaismymuse pseudonym involved in a supposed murder-for-hire plot.
Investigators say Redandwhite, advertising as a hitman, was hired by Ulbricht (then known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts”) to pull off a hit on his behalf.
There’s no evidence to suggest a hit was actually made, which is why it’s suspected that Redandwhite’s intentions were to scam Dread Pirate Roberts out of his money by assuming the “hitman” role.
The authorities provided evidence of this theory through a laptop they obtained from Ulbricht.
The computer consisted of a file labeled “save_red” containing photos which he referenced in his communications with Redandwhite.
Contents of the photos included packaged Canadian currency and drugs. In one photo, there was a man in front of a building. The U.S. claimed that the man in this photo resembled the picture on Ellingson’s driver’s license.
The Bail Hearing and Ruling
The judge decided to release Ellingson on bail in spite of the evidence that the authorities provided.
She further stated that there was not enough proof to grant the U.S. authorities the request to extradite the suspect.
In her ruling, DeWitt-Van Oosten indicated that the U.S. is still gathering more evidence to support the request for extradition.
She asserted that the evidence available gave limited information regarding the nature of offenses that the police claim the suspect committed.
However, the judge acknowledged the suspect’s criminal record. Ellingson’s past convictions include one for trafficking and three for drug possession with the intent to distribute.
He also had other convictions for such crimes as possessing a prohibited weapon, criminal harassment and assault.
Ellingson’s lawyer, however, justified his criminal record. The lawyer stated that the suspect committed these crimes at a time when he was struggling with addiction.
The judge accepted the lawyer’s submission. She also stated that it was appropriate to release the suspect on bail since he has a supportive family.
Besides, Ellingson’s family was willing to pay the required $75,000 surety and offer him a job.
Despite granting him release on bail, the judge firmly stated that she noted the offenses that the U.S. brought against the accused.
She further acknowledged the severity of the suspect’s previous convictions. Therefore, the judge indicated that the charges against the suspect could lead to life imprisonment if the court found him guilty.
The U.S. authorities are now working on gathering more evidence against Ellingson.
If they find sufficient proof of the suspect’s involvement in the Silk Road case, the court will grant them the request for his extradition.
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