A federal grand jury in Oregon has charged four Portland-area residents with selling methamphetamine through the defunct online black market Silk Road.
Prosecutors say the four — Jason Weld Hagen, 39; Chelsea Leah Reder, 23; Richard Egan Webster, 45; and Donald Ross Bechen, 39 — conspired to sell 17 pounds of meth for a total of more than $600,000. All four pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in a Portland court room on Wednesday.
The group made more than 3,000 meth sales between Aug. 25, 2012 and Aug. 3, 2013 to buyers in the United States, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Italy and the UK, according to the indictment from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
The indictment lists a variety of charges against the defendants, including conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine online, conspiracy to export a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, plus 15 counts of domestic and international money laundering.
Hagen, the group’s apparent leader, used several aliases on Silk Road, most notably “hammertime,” according to the indictment. The conspirators allegedly sold meth to undercover government agents on two separate occasions in December and January.
The group conducted its alleged transactions using the difficult-to-track digital currency Bitcoin, which remains standard operating procedure for online black markets. The members later converted the Bitcoin to cash and moved the money using PayPal, Western Union and prepaid debit cards, according to the indictment.
The Oregonian reports that all four defendants were apprehended Tuesday; Hagen and Reder were arrested at their homes in Vancouver, Wash., sheriff’s deputies arrested Webster in Aloha, Ore., and Bechen turned himself in.
The FBI seized the Silk Road mentioned in the indictment and arrested its alleged owner, Ross William Ulbricht, on Oct. 1. A nearly identical replica sprang up several weeks after the original Silk Road went down, and this new Silk Road is still in operation.
These arrests are the latest in a series involving alleged Silk Road dealers, eight of which occurred a week after the site’s closure.
Despite the string of arrests, law enforcement has only just scratched the surface of the one-time drug empire. FBI documents state that Silk Road consisted of 146,946 buyer accounts and 3,877 vendor accounts from Feb. 6, 2011 to July 23, 2013. The site presumably facilitated $1.2 billion in transactions during its two-and-a-half year run.
As for the latest arrestees, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta ordered three of the four held in federal custody pending trial, only allowing Reder to go free under conditions of pre-trial supervision. The trial is scheduled to take place during a seven-day period beginning Feb. 18.
You can view the entire indictment against the four defendants below.
Image: Phil Walter/Getty Images