Silk Road drug vendor who claimed to commit murders-for-hire for Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht charged with narcotics and money laundering conspiracies


Date: May 11, 2023


Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Thomas M. Fattorusso, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation ("IRS-CI"), announced the unsealing today of an Indictment charging James Ellingson, a/k/a "redandwhite," with narcotics trafficking and money laundering offenses in connection with his sale of large quantities of narcotics on the "Silk Road" online marketplace. In connection with his drug trafficking on Silk Road, Ellingson claimed to have arranged for the murder of five people for Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, a/k/a "Dread Pirate Roberts," for which he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bitcoin. Law enforcement does not possess any evidence that the purported murders actually took place. Ellingson was previously arrested in Canada. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jennifer L. Rochon.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: "As alleged, Ellingson used the Dark Web to ship dangerous drugs around the world, including to New York City. He discussed with Silk Road's founder a plot to kill five people and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Bitcoin in exchange. Others who would try to hide in the shadows of the Internet should know that federal law enforcement will continue to uncover crime, wherever and however committed."

IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Thomas M. Fattorusso said: "Ellingson's alleged criminal actions are far more egregious than just money laundering or the large quantities of narcotics trafficked through the 'Silk Road' online marketplace. He also claimed to have acted as the middleman between the Silk Road founder and murderers-for-hire. Now, Ellingson will face the consequences of his actions."

According to the allegations in the indictment:

Ellingson is a Canadian citizen who lived in the vicinity of Vancouver, Canada. From 2011 to 2013, Ellingson sold large quantities of narcotics through the Silk Road online marketplace under the usernames "MarijuanaIsMyMuse" and "Lucydrop." Through his Silk Road usernames, Ellingson sold more than four kilograms of methamphetamine, more than 100 grams of heroin, more than two kilograms of cocaine, more than six grams of LSD, approximately seven kilograms of the drug commonly known as "ecstasy" or "MDMA," and more than 19 kilograms of marijuana, among other narcotics, to Silk Road customers in exchange for Bitcoin, including to customers in New York City.

In March 2013, Ellingson, using the Silk Road username "redandwhite," contacted Ulbricht, Silk Road's founder, regarding a purported Silk Road user who had threatened to release personal identifying information of Silk Road drug vendors and customers. In these messages, Ellingson claimed to have control over most drug trafficking in Western Canada.

In one message, Ulbricht informed Ellingson that "[the murder target] is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was executed." In another message, Ulbricht stated: "[the murder target] is causing me problems . . . I would like to put a bounty on his head if it's not too much trouble for you. What would be an adequate amount to motivate you to find him?" Ellingson responded, "[the p]rice for clean is 300k+ USD," and the "[p]rice for non-clean is 150-200k USD depending on how you want it done." Ellingson further explained, in part, that "[t]hese prices pay for 2 professional hitters including their travel expenses and work they put in."

Ulbricht later sent Ellingson $150,000 worth of Bitcoin to pay for the purported murder. Ellingson and Ulbricht agreed on a code to be included with a photograph to prove that the murder had been carried out. In April 2013, Ellingson and Ulbricht exchanged messages reflecting that Ellingson had sent Ulbricht photographic proof of the murder. A thumbnail of a deleted photograph purporting to depict a man lying on a floor in a pool of blood with tape over his mouth was recovered from Ulbricht's laptop after his arrest. A piece of paper with the agreed-upon code written on it is shown in the photograph next to the head of the purportedly dead individual.

Later in April 2013, Ellingson and Ulbricht exchanged additional messages regarding a plot to kill four additional people in Canada. Ulbricht sent Ellingson an additional $500,000 worth of Bitcoin for the murders. Ellingson claimed to Ulbricht in online messages that the murders had in fact been committed.

Law enforcement does not possess any evidence that the purported murders Ellingson claimed to have arranged actually took place.

Ellingson, of Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, is charged with one count of narcotics trafficking conspiracy and one count of narcotics importation conspiracy, which each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison, and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The statutory minimum and maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by a judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of IRS-CI's New York Field Office and thanked the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs for their assistance in the extradition proceedings.

This case is being handled by the Office's Complex Frauds & Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sagar Ravi and Drew Skinner are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.