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FBI agents arrested alleged "Silk Road 2.0" owner and operator Blake Benthall in San Francisco on Wednesday, the bureau's New York field office announced Thursday.
The FBI is accusing Benthall, 26, of running the online "black-market bazaar" where anonymous users can trade illegal goods and services. The hidden marketplace operates on what's called the "Deep Web," accessible only through special software. Silk Road 2.0 sprung up in November 2013, just five weeks after the FBI shut down the original Silk Road.
The FBI's complaint against Benthall alleges he took control of the marketplace in late December under the moniker "Defcon." Benthall has owned and operated Silk Road ever since, the FBI alleges.
Benthall is charged on multiple counts including conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking. If convicted, that charge alone carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. The other charges are related to alleged computer hacking, trafficking in fraudulent IDs, and money laundering.
A LinkedIn profile that appears to belong to Benthall says he worked as an engineer at SpaceX until earlier this year. A company spokesman confirmed to NBC News via email "there was a Blake Benthall employed here from 12/9/13 to 2/21/14."
According to the FBI's complaint, an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent was able to infiltrate the Silk Road 2.0 support staff. The agent was therefore able to gain access to private sections of the website and communicate regularly with "Defcon."
Benthall is expected to appear in federal court in San Francisco later on Thursday. It was not immediately clear who would represent him.
As of September 2014, Silk Road 2.0 had about 150,000 active users and about $8 million in monthly sales, the FBI said.
"Let’s be clear -- this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said in a statement. "Those looking to follow in the footsteps of alleged cybercriminals should understand that we will return as many times as necessary to shut down noxious online criminal bazaars. We don’t get tired.”