Brian Richard Farrell, a 27-year-old accused of being a key administrator of the dark web criminal marketplace Silk Road 2.0, has been sentenced to eight years in prison and four years of supervised release.
Silk Road 2.0 was launched in November 2013 after U.S. authorities shut down the original Silk Road, whose alleged operator, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison last year. Authorities launched an investigation into Silk Road 2.0 and in November 2014 they arrested its operator, Blake Benthall (aka Defcon).
According to prosecutors, Farrell was one of the few individuals who helped Benthall operate the website. Specifically, Farrell was tasked with approving new vendors and staff, and he organized a DDoS attack against a competitor.
Farrell was arrested in January 2015 and in March 2016 he pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Before pleading guilty, Farrell’s defense questioned the methods used by the FBI to identify their client.
Silk Road 2.0 had been using the Tor anonymity network to protect the identities of staff and customers. However, authorities caught a break when researchers from Carnegie Mellon University discovered a way to deanonymize Tor users.
The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, was used to identify the real IP addresses of Tor users suspected of conducting criminal activities. Farrell’s defense argued that the FBI’s search of the Tor network might have violated his Fourth Amendment rights and filed a motion to obtain additional information on the methods used. However, the judge denied the motion since the suspect was identified based only on his IP address, and noted that Tor users should not expect their real IPs to remain private.
Just before its operator was arrested, Silk Road 2.0 generated sales of roughly $8 million every month. The dark web marketplace, which had approximately 150,000 active members, was used to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs, and launder millions of dollars.