The mastermind behind a £73m dark web site has been jailed for selling drugs online and hoarding hundreds of child sex abuse images that he wanted to sell for profit.
University dropout Thomas White, from Liverpool, took over the running of the notorious dark web site Silk Road after the FBI closed it in 2013.
The 24-year-old, who left his accounting degree at Liverpool John Moores University after a single term, launched Silk Road 2.0 within a month of the original site shutting down.
Prosecutors called him the “guiding mind” behind an online black market for illegal drugs after he allowed users to anonymously buy and sell Class A and B substances, as well as so-called legal highs, using the digital currency Bitcoin.
White pleaded guilty last month to drug trafficking, money laundering and making 464 indecent images of children that were category A, the most severe.
He was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday to five years and four months in jail.
Although White had no legitimate income, he paid £10,700 up front to rent his plush apartment on Liverpool’s city water front.
Investigators are unsure how much money he made but around $96m (£73m) worth of goods were traded on Silk Road 2.0.
White took a commission of between and 1% and 5% on each sale from tens of thousands of users.
When National Crime Agency (NCA) officers raided his flat, they discovered a laptop under his bed which contained the indecent images of children.
Investigators also uncovered an online chat in which White said he wanted to set up a paedophiles’ website “because there is money to be made from these people”.
A vast amount of encrypted material was discovered on White’s computers including data hacked from the FBI and NASA.
The details of users of Ashley Madison – a website billed as enabling extramarital affairs – and customers of UK broadband provider TalkTalk were also found.
It is not believed White hacked the data himself, the NCA said.
White, who used aliases St Evo and Dread Pirate Roberts, was self-taught at computers and spent £35,000 on the technology.
He spent days gaming late at night and was believed to own 50 Bitcoins with a value of around £192,000.
The NCA, which identified White by tracking parcels of drugs he ordered through the original Silk Road website, said he believed he could use the dark web to “anonymously commit crimes with impunity”.
“White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy,” said Ian Glover from the NCA.
“He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down.
“We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation.”