A self-taught computer expert who was the “guiding mind” behind an international online black market in illegal drugs has been jailed for five years and four months.
Thomas White was a teenager when he took over the Silk Road site on the dark web after it was shut down by the FBI, as well as for possessing hundreds of indecent images of children.
Sentencing him at Liverpool Crown Court, Judge Thomas Teague QC said: “You traded in illicit drugs and facilitated the trading by others in such drugs through the medium of a clandestine online marketplace, Silk Road.
“It had sophisticated security arrangements to minimise the risk of detection by law enforcement agencies and users made and received payments in bitcoin.”
White, using the name StExo, began using the dark web marketplace in 2013 to buy a prescription drug used for sleeping disorders, and then entered into an agreement with user MedsforBitcoin, in India, to become a distributor in exchange for a discount, said David Jackson, prosecuting.
The agreement was a “stepping stone”, Mr Jackson said, and White upgraded from a buyer’s to a vendor’s account.
He sold items including drug-testing kits and MDMA, before going on to advise on security and create back-ups of vendor pages and forums in case the site was taken down.
In October 2013 the FBI shut down the site and arrested Ross Ulbricht for running it.
White then collaborated with another user to set up Silk Road 2.0.
Mr Jackson said: “The Crown say this defendant was the guiding mind behind the site whereas Mr Benthall provided the technical knowhow.”
White took up the mantle of Dread Pirate Roberts but once the site was up and running again he began to reduce his active involvement.
Silk Road 2.0 continued to operate until November 2014 but the court heard the defendant had announced his retirement in messages in January 2014, when he was 19.
Judge Teague said: “From the beginning of 2014 you reduced your personal involvement in running Silk Road, no doubt in the hope of avoiding Ross Ulbricht’s fate, however the authorities caught up with you.”
White, 24, who gave up after one term of an accounting degree, pleaded guilty last month to supplying MDMA, money laundering and making indecent images of children.
National Crime Agency (NCA) detectives Garry Tancock and Paul Chowles, who led the investigation, said that among the encrypted data found on White’s computers, some had been hacked from Nasa, the FBI and Ashley Madison – a website billed as enabling extramarital affairs.
It is not believed that White himself hacked the data.
Nicholas Johnson QC, defending, said: “What we are dealing with is a young man, aged 19, sitting in his student accommodation in Liverpool, who has a degree of sophistication so far as the internet was concerned, and thereby helped to facilitate the setting up of a marketplace which others then joined up to and carried out their own drug trafficking.”
The court heard White had worked as an engineer since his arrest and had tried to make a “positive contribution” to society.
The NCA said White was believed to own 50 bitcoins, now worth around £192,000.
Reporting by PA