My Top Secret Meeting with One of Silk Road’s Biggest Drug Lords
Dread Pirate Roberts captained a ship that many thought was unsinkable. But when the FBI seized the original Silk Road on October 1, 2013 ,and arrested the alleged kingpin—29-year-old Ross Ulbricht—the online drugs empire began to capsize. Its hundreds of thousands of customers scattered across the Deep Web, and up to seven known Silk Road vendors were identified and arrested.
As the chaos unravelled into the mainstream and stories of Dread Pirate Roberts’ (DPR) alleged murder-for-hire antics made headlines, one prominent Silk Road drugs syndicate sat in their European safe-house with a ton of opium and a decision to make—would they cut their losses and disappear into the ether while they were still ahead, or keep their lucrative online drugs network running in the midst of all this extra attention?
The displaced drugs syndicate, known on the Deep Web as the Scurvy Crew (TSC), decided to go back to work. For them, back to work meant laundering Bitcoins, vacuum packing drug parcels, and jumping the Moroccan border with bags stuffed full of uncut drugs. Silk Road may have died a sudden death at the hands of the authorities, but as one of the highest rated vendors before the FBI shut-down, the Scurvy Crew saw its demise as an opportunity to diversify.
After six months of negotiation, via encrypted email and several phone calls from throwaway SIM cards, the boss of the Scurvy Crew agreed to meet me. He told me he would explain to me the inner workings of his Deep Web drugs venture, from its humble beginnings to the near million-dollar profits it now apparently generates. Known to me only by the pseudonym “Ace,” the boss claimed to represent a new breed of drug dealer.
“I don’t do this just for the money,” he wrote to me via email. “I like to provide a premium service.”
The Rise and Rise of the UK’s Student Drug Dealers
If the greatest architects, theorists, and social planners who’ve ever lived were revived to design the perfect marketplace for drug dealers, they’d come up with a dorm. A nest stuffed with trainee adults, bankrolled by mom and dad, waiting like baby birds with their beaks wide open for their next life-changing experience. Dealers might not be allowed to actually vomit the drugs into the mouths of students, but dorms—which are often called “halls” in the UK—nontheless remain a drug merchant’s wet dream. Which is why they’ve been living in them for decades.
Nearly three quarters of Britain’s 2.5 million university students have taken illegal drugs. So it follows that somebody has to be there feeding the country’s future politicians, business leaders, and unemployed actors their weed, MDMA, cocaine, and ketamine (that last substance is up to ten times more likely to be used by students than non-students).
In fact, the student drug market is so sought after that dealers have been known to enroll in colleges specifically to take out student loans and sell drugs on campus. Then, of course, there are all the student dealers—those who begin their higher education with good intentions, but realize that working at a bar isn’t much fun and start selling drugs as a source of quick cash. If you live in halls and don’t know who this guy or girl is yet, take it as a sign that you should get some more friends.
In the wake of the original Silk Road’s closure, everything became a little turbulent for its users. First, they had to get used to not getting high-quality, peer-reviewed drugs delivered direct to their sofas. (Though presumably they didn’t stop getting high, instead forced back to the “mystery mix” street dealers and surly ex-Balkan war criminals who have spent years filling cities with drugs at night.) Some users were pissed off that they’d lost all the Bitcoin wealth they’d amassed, or that paid-for orders would go undelivered, while small-time dealers freaked out about how they suddenly lacked the funds to pay off debts owed to drug sellers higher up the food chain.
Viable Silk Road replacements have been few and far between. Project Black Flag, one marketplace purportedly created to fill the void, appears to have been a scam. The site’s owner recently closed up shop and made off with a load of Bitcoins without sending any product out to customers. Another alternative, Sheep, has been plagued with security worries, with many vendors deciding to hold off until a more stable site is launched.
The source of this story, who lives in Canada, wished to remain anonymous for fairly obvious reasons.
Just last week, I was at a trap house with my ex in Cloverdale, British Columbia. The front door was covered in what looked a lot like bullet holes, but I’m not sure. There were a lot of unexplainable holes in the wall. Some of the holes were so big I could almost fit through them. The whole place smelled faintly like ammonia and dirty laundry. I was hanging out in the living room while they were all in the kitchen. On one burner they were cooking crack and on the burner next to it, they were cooking dinner. I think that’s kind of funny, but I also couldn’t help but wonder why I was there? I mean, it’s not like I seek this shit out, or anything. I think I just attract it.
Crack dealers tend to approach me. I’m not chasing them down. It’s not like I ever said to myself, “I’m going to date crack dealers now!” But when you meet one, you meet a lot of others. And then you just start dating.
I’ve met some of them through friends, some I’ve met randomly at the club, or at a bar, or on the street. I don’t smoke crack. I’m not about that. I’ve never tried it, probably never will. I guess I date them because I like their personalities. Maybe it’s because I thought it would be exciting—but it’s actually kind of boring. They always want to chill at home. They’re always so tired. They don’t want to do anything. They barely have time to sleep, let alone have fun.
The first time I was approached by a crack dealer, I was 19 and at a party somewhere in East Vancouver. He was a friend of a friend. I thought he was really tough. He had muscles and he was wearing a shirt with no sleeves. I liked that. We dated for a couple of years. He was actually my last serious boyfriend. No one’s held me down like that since.
Adrian Grenier and Matthew Cooke on How to Make Money Selling Drugs
Yes, Adrian Grenier is that pretty boy from Entourage with the entourage. But in 2008 he created a show that featured himself and a team of environmentalists showing us how to, you know, stop screwing the planet. In 2009, he co-founded the now burgeoning green lifestyle site shft.com. He also spent three years making that surprisingly good HBO doc, Teenage Paparazzo, with fellow producer Matthew Cooke. Now he and Cooke are using a grip of former and current drug dealers, kingpins, narcs, and celebrities like 50 Cent, Susan Sarandon, Eminem, Woody Harrelson, Russell Simmons, and The Wire creator David Simon to wake people up to just how sickening America’s drug policies are, and how a street dealer can become a cartel lord with relative ease in their new documentary, How to Make Money Selling Drugs.
Also, what the fuck did you do today?
VICE: What are some tips for getting away with selling drugs?
Matthew Cooke: Well, like any other product, you try and bring it to market and try to sell it. You already have a ready-and-waiting customer base that wants the drugs. All you have to do is pull them out and… start.
While the War on Drugs is obviously a failure, it brings in tremendous revenue for all levels of government. What can we do to end the addiction our lawmakers have with the money it rakes in?
AdrianGrenier: The conservative answer would be, let’s shrink government. Let’s certainly get out of people’s personal lives and get the SWAT teams out of their homes.
Matthew: The biggest myth that needs to be dispelled is that we need government to legislate morality, and that we need government to legislate that morality with a police force. That is the prevalent view of those who think we should keep the laws the way they are. A lot of people think that when you talk about decriminalizing drugs it’s for potheads and druggies who want to take to the streets to do their crazy drugs and wreak havoc on society. We need to bridge the gap and let people know that we’re all on the same page and we all have the same objective. Which is how can we limit harmful drugs and treat those with addiction?
Adrian: It’s lazy governance and lazy police work. We don’t really want to deal with people who have substance abuse problems. We don’t want to deal with people who have chemical imbalances… we’re taking non-violent, personal-use offenders and turning them into criminals.
Don’t Get Caught: I’ve Spent 8+ Years in the System for a Nonviolent Felony
I’d been involved in selling drugs since I first smoked weed when I was 13. It just made sense to me that in order to have the money to use drugs, I’d have to sell some, too. I never thought I was doing anything wrong—my entrepreneurship put smiles on a lot of faces, and I did it better than most people ’cause I showed up on time and wasn’t a greedy, lying scumbag. I did abuse my stash pretty frequently, but I had enough self-control to avoid going off the deep end.
As a kid, I attended elite prep schools, played hockey year-round, and wound up getting accepted into Skidmore College, where, smooth as silk, I kept selling narcotics, mostly to my fellow students. Soon, I was HOOKED, living lovely off all that drug loot. I drove all around the Northeast like a madman, bartering and hustling coke, weed, X, shrooms, and whatever else seemed like a good flip. (I stayed away from dope and crack, though—you have to draw the line somewhere.)
I was so cocky—I never actually thought the pork-chop patrol would come after me. I ignored the illegality of what I was doing and didn’t care about my well-being enough to investigate or even pay attention to the laws. But as I soon learned, the law was paying lots of attention to me.
On a seemingly normal Friday night in February 2004, I was outside a Barnes & Noble with my older brother and his son when I got tagged by an undercover cop who looked like an upstate trailer-park stick-up kid. In retrospect, I wish he had robbed me for all my money instead of cuffing me in front of my six-year-old nephew. At that moment, my brain was spiraling through a million made-up explanations for my arrest instead of accepting the nightmarish reality of what was about to happen next. The pigs had a search warrant, and they took me back to my crib to rifle through my head stash, which was substantial enough to get me charged with five felonies and, potentially, 12 to 25 years in prison. I was 23 years old.
I spent the night in county jail and then, thankfully, was released on bail to await my trial. At the time, I was in my last semester of college and had been as excited as a nip-sucking piglet to finally graduate with all of my peoples. The future was so bright, and unlike most of my fellow students, I was in the black: I had a ton of money saved. I had already booked my plane tickets and hotel reservations to go to Italy with my girlfriend. But not anymore. Whatever the outcome of the trial, I knew my parents would be devastated (way more than I was), and I’d probably be kicked out of school.
I ended up taking a plea bargain. I was sentenced to three to nine years in state prison. My lengthy sentence was at least partially a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time—’04 was an election year, and the politicians in Saratoga Springs, where I was living and dealing, thought the town had a drug problem. The district attorney who prosecuted me probably figured nabbing a college student “involved in a drug-trafficking ring from New York City” (as the local paper referred to me) was a good demonstration that the city was tough on crime. They made an example out of me.
I took the plea deal in August, and they told me I was going to jail in October. Because I was at home, living in my own apartment, I spent that summer in an awkward sort of hell—I was technically free, but soon not to be. Every day that passed inched me closer to The End. It was such an awful countdown—never before or since in my life have I wanted time to stand still.
When the morning of that loathsome day arrived I was already running late, stumbling out of my girl’s apartment, hungover and sleep-deprived. I left my bonerabelle sobbing uncontrollably in the bed. She couldn’t handle going to court and watching the police take me away. We’d been together a couple years, and this was the most horrible way imaginable to say good-bye. Only death would’ve been worse.
I found my parents parked on the street, waiting, already lockjawed with tears in their eyes. They were so caring that they had even temporarily moved to Saratoga Springs, renting an apartment for a few months to watch over me while I was out on bail, making sure I didn’t do anything stupid before I was sent away, which I probably would have if they weren’t there. I still cringe over the pain I put my father and mother through. I felt like the Human Turd.
Ever wonder how to sell $100,000 worth of drugs in a week? We learned the secrets of the biggest drug dealer in NYC - a man who will deliver any substance you want, 24/7. He told us everything - from where he gets his drugs to how his crew operates. Come with us as we take a rare look into the dangerous life of a NYC drug delivery-man.