Silk Road drug market’s ‘mentor’ sentenced to 20 years in prison

A senior advisor to the Silk Road dark web market was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $1.6 million for his role in distributing “massive quantities of narcotics” through the site.

Roger Thomas Clark, a 61-year-old Canadian citizen known online as Variety Jones, advised Silk Road’s founder Ross Ulbricht on all aspects of the enterprise, according to prosecutors. Ulbricht described Clark as a “real mentor,” who inspired him and helped “to build a brand that people can come to trust.”

Clark has already spent more than seven years behind bars after being arrested in Thailand in 2015 and extradited to the U.S. in 2018. Clark's defense attorney argued that he faced mistreatment in a Thai prison and medical negligence during his five years in U.S. custody. His hearing was delayed multiple times due to the pandemic, limited access to legal materials, and injuries and illnesses while in jail.

Ulbricht, 39, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, is already serving a life sentence after he was convicted in 2015 of running Silk Road.

During its operation from 2011 until 2013, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers to distribute narcotics and other illicit goods and services to more than 100,000 buyers and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from those unlawful transactions.

Clark’s assistance

According to the indictment, Clark advised Silk Road’s founder about security vulnerabilities in the market’s site, technical infrastructure, the rules that governed the platform’s users and vendors, as well as the promotion of narcotic sales on the site.

Clark also helped Ulbricht to develop a “cover story” to make it appear as though Ulbricht had sold Silk Road. He also gathered information to counter law enforcement’s efforts to investigate the enterprise.

Clark also suggested that Ulbricht commission a murder-for-hire against one of its staff members — the murder was never carried out, but Ulbricht paid the purported hitman $80,000 for the job under the belief that it was completed.

“Roger Thomas Clark was a central figure in helping to lead Silk Road and in advocating violence, even murder, to protect this digital drug empire,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.

Clark, however, said that his work on the Silk Road had always been motivated by his political belief that drugs should be legalized. He argued that the hundreds of millions of dollars in dark web drug transactions he facilitated were comparatively safer than physical drug deals.

In court on Tuesday he said that he was both “proud and ashamed” of his involvement in the Silk Road’s operation.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.