The man believed to be Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht’s closest adviser has finally been apprehended.
In a statement published Friday, the FBI said that Roger Thomas Clark, known online as “Variety Jones,” “VJ” and “Cimon,” was arrested in Thailand. The suspect is pending extradition to the United States.
“Clark may have thought residing in Thailand would keep him out of reach of U.S authorities, but our international partnerships have proven him wrong, FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said in a statement. “We thank our law enforcement partners who have worked with the FBI on this case.”
Federal prosecutors allege that the 54-year-old Canadian was paid “at least hundreds of thousands of dollars” to work for Ulbricht. The announcement comes over six months after Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2011, Ulbricht wrote of Variety Jones:
This was the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far. He quickly proved to me that he had value by pointing out a major security hole in the site I was unaware of… He has advised me on many technical aspect of what we are doing, helped me speed up the site and squeeze more out of my current servers. He also 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. He’s been a real mentor.
Clark is charged with one count of narcotics conspiracy, and one count of money laundering conspiracy. If found guilty, Clark could face up to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors unsealed the criminal complaint on Friday, nearly six months after it was initially issued.
So how did American authorities finally conclude that Clark was Variety Jones?
A scan of his Canadian passport was amongst Ulbricht’s stash of scanned identification documents of Silk Road staffers contained on his laptop, which was seized during Ulbricht’s arrest at a San Francisco library in October 2013.
In an affidavit, Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Gary Alford wrote that once investigators had a copy of the Clark passport, they noted it was issued in the United Kingdom. They later discovered that this name was listed as a director of a British company called “Gypsy Nirvana.” The business records noted that this person was also named Roger Thomas Clark, who had the same nationality and birthday.
As Vice Motherboard noted, one month before the criminal complaint was issued, an independent researcher named La Moustache concluded that Variety Jones was a longtime marijuana vendor named Plural of Mongoose, and even linked to British court documents showing the name Thomas Clark.
— Moustache (@lamoustache) March 3, 2015
According to Alford, an unnamed cooperating witness also confirmed that Clark and Variety Jones are the same person. The FBI did not explain exactly how Clark was located within Thailand, nor the circumstances of his arrest.
However, in the affidavit, Alford also observes that the chat logs between Ulbricht and Variety Jones end about April 3, 2013, prior to which they discuss switching from TorChat to Pidgin, an open-source chat client that automatically uses OTR encryption. Most likely, Ulbricht and Variety Jones then used OTR chats and disabled logging so there would be no trace of their conversations.
At one point, Cimon suggested that Ulbricht (as Dread Pirate Roberts) order a murder on a staffer that Ulbricht thought was stealing from Silk Road. (This entire murder-for-hire episode turned out to be staged by the Drug Enforcement Agency.)
“As a side note, at what point in time do we decide we’ve had enough of someones shit, and terminate them?” asked Cimon. “Like, does impersonating a vendor to rip off a mid-level drug lord, using our rep and system; follows up by stealing from our vendors and clients and breeding fear and mis-trust, does that come close in yer opinion?”
“Terminate?” wrote DPR. “Execute?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” said Cimon. “At what point in time is that the response. We’re playing with big money with serious people, and that’s the world they live in.”