Variety Jones, Alleged Silk Road Mentor, Arrested in Thailand
More than two years after Ross Ulbricht was arrested in a San Francisco and accused of creating and running the Dark Web drug bazaar known as the Silk Road, a manhunt on the other side of the world has found the man believed to be Ulbricht’s closest adviser and mentor: Variety Jones.
On Friday evening, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint against Roger Thomas Clark, a 54-year-old Canadian who has been arrested in Thailand through a joint operation of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and Drug Enforcement Administration and local Thai police. He’s been charged with narcotics trafficking and money laundering, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, and now faces extradition to the U.S. “The arrest of Roger Thomas Clark shows again that conducting criminal activities on the Dark Web does not keep a criminal out of law enforcement’s reach,” FBI assistant director Diego Rodriguez wrote in a statement. “Clark may have thought residing in Thailand would keep him out of reach of U.S authorities, but our international partnerships have proven him wrong. We thank our law enforcement partners who have worked with the FBI on this case.”
The figure of the then-still-at-large Variety Jones loomed over the trial of Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of creating and running the Silk Road in February. In his journal, Ulbricht described Jones, now believed to be Clark, as the most important figure on the drug market’s payroll, a consigliere as much as an employee. Ulbricht credited Jones for his work as a coder, as a security auditor for the site, as a financial adviser, and even as a public relations manager.
“[He] was the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far,” Ulbricht wrote of Jones, also sometimes known as Cimon or the Plural of Mongoose, in a 2011 entry in his journal. “He has helped me better interact with the community around Silk Road, delivering proclamations, handling troublesome characters, running a sale, changing my name, devising rules, and on and on. He also helped me get my head straight regarding legal protection, cover stories, devising a will, finding a successor, and so on. He’s been a real mentor.”
In fact, it was Jones who came up with Ulbricht’s “Dread Pirate Roberts” pseudonym, a clever nickname designed to give the impression that the site had a changing group of leaders passing down that mantle, an allusion to the changing identity of a character in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. ““You need to change your name from Admin, to Dread Pirate Roberts,” Jones wrote in an early 2012 chat with Ulbricht. He said that he had given the idea 12 hours of serious thought. “Start the legend now…Clear your old trail – to be honest, as tight as you play things, you are the weak link from…[previous] contacts.”
After a long silence following the Silk Road’s takedown, someone claiming to be Variety Jones surfaced on a cannabis forum in September, writing that he had been hunted by a corrupt FBI agent and that he planned to turn himself in. The post told an elaborate, unverified story of the crooked agent seeking a key to a wallet containing millions of dollars worth of Silk Road bitcoins, which he needed Jones’ help to find. Jones gave no evidence for those claims, and, given his history of creating deceptive cover stories, it could easily be a total fabrication. An FBI spokesperson told WIRED that, following an internal investigation, “there has been no confirmation of wrongdoing.”
Clark, according to the criminal complaint against him, was identified through an image of his passport stored on Ulbricht’s computer; the Silk Road administrator insisted on his employees revealing their identities to him, though he promised to keep the copies of their identifying documents encrypted on his hard drive. The complaint also identifies Clark as the owner of a UK-based marijuana seed business. In his 300-plus posts to the Silk Road forums, Clark’s alleged pseudonym Variety Jones described himself as a marijuana connoisseur with more than 2,500 strains of seeds in his “seed vault.” He said he had ordered from practically every marijuana vendor on the Silk Road. “Cannabis is like wine, there are many and varied flavours and aromas,” he wrote.
Jones also advised Ulbricht on how to move outside of the United States’ borders to better shield himself from law enforcement, advising him on a never-realized plan to obtain citizenship on the Pacific island country of Dominica. “My clever plan is to travel all the time, be vague about permanent residence,” Jones wrote to Ulbricht. “I fly my family to a nice place twice a year to meet.”
In one of the Silk Road’s darkest moments, it was also Variety Jones who may have convinced to Ulbricht to have his employee Curtis Clark Green killed, the first of six attempted murders Ulbricht is accused of paying for. (Green’s death was actually faked by the DEA and photos sent to Ulbricht as part of its investigation into his operation.) “At what point in time do we decide we’ve had enough of someones shit, and terminate them?” Jones suggested to Ulbricht when Ulbricht told him he believed Green had stolen bitcoins from the site.”
“Terminate?” Silk Road’s administrator asked tentatively. “Execute?”
“I know a guy, and he knows a guy who knows a guy, that gets things done,” Jones wrote back.
When the Dread Pirate Roberts decided to go through with the murder, Jones congratulated him. “You would have surprised me if you had balked at taking the step, of bluntly, killing Curtis for fucking up just a wee bit too badly,” he wrote. “Also, if you had balked, I would have seriously re-considered our relationship.”
Jones even went so far as to advise Ulbricht on how he should plan to escape from prison were he ever to be arrested. “One of the things i’d like us to look at investing in is a helicopter tour company…seriously, with the amount of $ we’re generating, I could hire a small country to come get you.” he wrote. “And remember that one day when your in the exercise yard, I’ll be the dude in the helicopter coming in low and fast, I promise.”
Now Variety Jones will need a prison-breaking helicopter of his own. And as the final major known player in the Silk Road to fall, there may be no one left to send it.
Here’s the full criminal complaint against Roger Thomas Clark:
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