For almost four years, the Silk Road online market made shopping for illicit drugs easy and (reasonably) safe. One of its biggest dealers, a man from Bellevue, was set to be sentenced this spring. Another, also of Bellevue, awaits trial. This is how they got busted.
Sadler was a techie who’d burned out on the rat race when he set up shop on Silk Road in summer 2012. Inaccessible via standard web browsers, the site protected users’ and sellers’ identities by bouncing their communications through servers stationed around the globe. Once the transactions entered the real world, though, all bets were off.
Sadler was well known for his high-quality black tar heroin, and within months of opening his digital storefront, a postal inspector nabbed one of his shipments—stuffed inside a birthday card along with some scented markers. For the next year, the Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security built their case by tracking Sadler and his girlfriend as they shipped packages from more than 40 post offices in Western Washington. After agents confronted the pair in July 2013, Sadler agreed to work as a confidential informant and help bring down Silk Road’s top dog, Ross Ulbricht. That October, as the FBI shut down the Silk Road, Sadler was formally charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin, and meth; he pleaded guilty the following May, and was scheduled to be sentenced in March 2015.
Undaunted by the feds’ raid, a new crop of dealers resurrected the site one month later, and Farrell earned a job at Silk Road 2.0 by leading an online attack against a competitor. Within months he’d moved up the ranks.
It’s true what they say about honor among thieves, though. The site’s leader, a man who went by the handle Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0, lobbied hard to see his staff’s electronic communications but was rebuffed, in particular by Farrell. Ironically, had DPR 2.0 gotten his way, he might have thwarted the well-placed informant who supplied authorities with the IP addresses of some of the site’s biggest players, which led Homeland Security to confront Farrell at his home in Bellevue. He denied everything, but his roommate—who’d intercepted a package with more than 100 tablets of Xanax—ratted him out. In January 2015, Farrell was charged with conspiracy to distribute at least 5 kilos of coke, 1 kilo of heroin, and 500 grams of meth. As of early March, a trial date hadn’t been set.
Defiant to the end, Farrell couldn’t help but brag about his empire when arrested: “You’re not going to find much of a bigger fish than me.”