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A Manhattan federal court has named an American, an Australian and an Irishman on counts of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, conspiracy to launder money and narcotics conspiracy. The drug charges stem from their alleged participation in the "Silk Road" website, a cyberspace black marketplace for illegal drugs of all kinds.

The operation was based in San Francisco and funded by Bitcoin, a digital currency that can be difficult for authorities to track. During a nine-month period from January through September 2011, authorities estimate that a billion dollars in revenue was generated via illegal drug sales.

In November, a Baltimore federal court accepted a guilty plea to a drug conspiracy charge from another man with ties to the Silk Road website. Prosecutors allege that the men indicted in the New York City cases used the online user names of "Inigo," "Libertas," "Samesamebutdifferent" and "Batman73" as administrators in charge of customer service and site forum moderators. Prosecutors allege the men were paid between $50,000 and $75,000 annually for their roles on the website.

The Australian and American were apprehended; the other man is alleged to be on the run in Ireland. One man operating the website using the moniker "Dread Pirate Roberts," referencing a movie character from the '80s, was arrested in October on charges that include attempting to arrange a failed murder for hire.

It's important to note that not all who are charged with drug offenses are guilty of crimes. Police and prosecutors can manipulate other defendants to implicate innocent associates in a bid to mitigate their own roles. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can call in experts to challenge evidence and try to get testimony thrown out in an attempt to get the charges against their clients greatly reduced or dropped entirely.

Source: nbcnewyork.com, "3 More Charged in NYC for Alleged Roles in "Silk Road" Online Drug Marketplace" Jonathan Dienst, Dec. 20, 2013

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