It’s been nearly five years since the FBI surrounded Ross Ulbricht in the science fiction section of a San Francisco library, arrested him, and grabbed the laptop from which he had run the dark web drug bazaar known as the Silk Road. Ulbricht went on trial in a New York courtroom, and is currently serving a life sentence without parole. But even now, the Silk Road saga still hasn’t ended: Half a decade after Ulbricht’s arrest, his alleged advisor, mentor and right-hand man Roger Clark will finally face a US court, too.
On Friday, the FBI, IRS, DHS, and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced the extradition of 56-year-old Canadian man Roger Clark from a Thai jail cell to New York to face newly unsealed charges for his role in Silk Road’s operation. The indictment accuses Clark, who allegedly went by the pseudonyms Variety Jones, Cimon, and Plural of Mongoose in his role as Silk Road’s consigliere, of crimes ranging from narcotics trafficking to money laundering. But even those charges don’t capture the outsize role Clark is believed to have played in building and managing the Silk Road, from security audits to marketing, and even reportedly encouraging Ulbricht to use violence to maintain his empire.
“As Ulbricht’s right-hand man, Roger Clark allegedly advised him of methods to thwart law enforcement during the operation of this illegal ploy, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process,” writes FBI assistant director William Sweeney in a press statement. “Today’s extradition of Roger Clark shows that despite alleged attempts to operate under the radar, he was never out of our reach.”
‘As Ulbricht’s right-hand man, Roger Clark allegedly advised him of methods to thwart law enforcement during the operation of this illegal ploy.’
William Sweeney, FBI
Clark was arrested more than two and a half years ago by Thai police, and since been held in a Bangkok prison. When a reporter for Ars Technica interviewed him there in 2016, he claimed that police had found only his encrypted laptops—unlike Ulbricht, whose PC was seized before he could close the lid and enable its encryption—and that as a result, law enforcement had no evidence against him of any crimes. “They don’t have shit on me,” Clark said at the time. “I’m not going [to the US]. It’s an impossible circumstance.”
But if authorities can prove that Clark is the same person as his alleged pseudonyms Variety Jones and Cimon, feds would already have a mountain of evidence against him from their investigation into Ross Ulbricht, including Ulbricht’s journal and vast logs of communications between Ulbricht and his top advisor.
In fact, that advisor stood out as a dramatic character throughout Ulbricht’s trial in early 2015. In one 2011 entry of Ulbricht’s journal, he described Variety Jones as nothing less than a “mentor” and the “the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far.”
He has advised me on many technical aspect[s] of what we are doing, helped me speed up the site and squeeze more out of my current servers. He has helped me better interact with the community around Silk Road, delivering proclamations, handling troublesome characters, running a sale, changing my name, devising rules, and on and on. He also helped me get my head straight regarding legal protection, cover stories, devising a will, finding a successor, and so on.
It was even Variety Jones—or perhaps, Clark—who invented the Dread Pirate Roberts handle that Ulbricht would use on the Silk Road starting in early 2012. In an IM chat that surfaced during the original Silk Road trial, Ulbricht had told Jones that he’d admitted to running the site to his ex-girlfriend, and to a college friend who’d helped him with the site’s programming. Variety Jones responded that the Dread Pirate Roberts name would better hide Ulbricht’s identity and create a sense that, like the fictional Dread Pirate Roberts in the Princess Bride book and film, the role was passed around by a rotating cast rather than a single person. “Start the legend now,” Jones wrote in the chat. “Clear your old trail – to be honest, as tight as you play things, you are the weak link from those two [previous] contacts.”
The next year, after Variety Jones had changed his name on the Silk Road to Cimon, he would also be the first to suggest that Ulbricht pay for the murder of Curtis Clark Green, an arrested employee they believed had stolen bitcoins from the site and who they worried might become an informant. “Enough about the theft,” the renamed advisor says in a chat log with Ulbricht. “Tell me about the organ donor.” Soon, he suggests killing Green more explicitly. “As a side note, at what point in time do we decide we’ve had enough of someones shit, and terminate them?”
A few minutes later, the Dread Pirate Roberts agrees to have Green killed, and his top advisor tells him he’s made the right decision. “You would have surprised me if you had balked at taking the step, of bluntly, killing Curtis for fucking up just a wee bit too badly,” Cimon, a.k.a. Variety Jones, writes. “Also, if you had balked, I would have seriously re-considered our relationship.” (In fact, Green was never killed. Instead his murder was faked by the Drug Enforcement Administration, for whom Green had already become a cooperating witness.)
Friday’s unsealed indictment against Clark, to be clear, makes no explicit mention of that murder plot. But the Department of Justice statement that accompanies it does accuse Clark of coaching Ulbricht on how to “use threats of violence to thwart law enforcement.”
Aside from his close relationship with Ulbricht, Clark in his alleged role as Variety Jones may also have run his own business on the Silk Road selling marijuana seeds. But that same character bragged to Ulbricht about years of experience running online drug operations, giving Ulbricht the sense that his advisor was a seasoned veteran of the narcotics trade who’d long stayed ahead of the police. Together they discussed the possibility of an entire Silk Road franchise, branching out well beyond drug sales to other encrypted or black market services. As Ulbricht wrote in his journal:
He has helped me see a larger vision. A brand that people can come to trust and rally behind. Silk Road chat, Silk Road exchange, Silk Road credit union, Silk Road market, Silk Road everything! And it’s been amazing just talking to a guy who is so intelligent and in the same boat as me, to a certain degree at least.
With Clark’s extradition to a New York court, he and Ulbricht may be in that boat together more than ever.