An administrator with wide-ranging access to the supposedly secret transactions on the Silk Road online market pleaded guilty to a drug charge Thursday in Baltimore after he was caught in a federal sting in January.
Curtis Clark Green, 47, was unmasked as postal inspectors delivered a kilogram of cocaine to his Utah home. He had given his address to an undercover agent.
Green's plea agreement reveals more details about how federal agents in Maryland closed in on the operators of the shadowy Internet site over the course of two years and built cases against its users and administrators.
The investigation became public in October when federal authorities in Maryland and New York filed charges against Ross William Ulbricht, 29, who they say ran the site using the name Dread Pirate Roberts.
At a hearing this week in New York, Ulbricht's lawyer said he planned to contest the assertion that Ulbricht is Dread Pirate Roberts.
In Maryland, though, cases against lesser figures in the site called the amazon.com of illegal drugs are already reaching their conclusion. On Tuesday, Jacob Theodore George IV, a 32-year-old Edgewood man who used the site to sell heroin and methylone, pleaded guilty to a drug distribution charge.
Former users of Silk Road launched a new version of the site this week, but authorities say their investigation shows that drug dealers should be wary of selling their product online.
"People who believe they can commit crimes anonymously using the Internet should reconsider," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.
To the outside world, Silk Road was a technological fortress that used state-of-the-art systems to mask users' identities and make payments difficult to trace. But Green's plea agreement shows how those at the upper levels of the site had access to users' information.
Green, who used the names "Flush" and "chronicpain," was paid a salary as a site administrator. He was able to read messages between customers and sellers on the site, peer into their accounts at the market and provide regular reports to the site's owner about disputes and possible snooping by law enforcement.
Whether Green assisted authorities in their investigation is sealed in the court record. But the U.S. attorney's office said his computer was forensically examined after it was seized.
Green, who appeared in court using a pink cane to walk, was eventually tracked down as part of a long-running undercover operation dubbed Marco Polo, after the Venetian explorer who followed the Silk Road to China during the Middle Ages.
Green and his attorney declined to comment.
Prosecutors say the sting against Green began to develop last December when an undercover agent approached Ulbricht through the site saying he wanted to sell a large quantity of drugs.
Ulbricht had Green and other employees of the site help find a buyer, prosecutors say. Green agreed to act as a middleman for the $27,000 sale.
An agent delivered the cocaine package on Jan. 17, and then authorities swept in and searched Green's home, prosecutors say. They seized $18,000 in cash, a MacBook and his cell phone.
Green is free pending his sentencing in February. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Reuters contributed to this article.