IRS tax expert takes down on-line drug lord

There is an interesting article in the December 25 New York Times about Gary L. Alford a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service assigned to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It appears that Alford, 38, figured out who was running a web site called Silk Road, which was selling $300,000 of heroin and other drugs each day. Up until Alford’s break through, the identity of the man behind Silk Road was a criminal known only as Dead Pirate Roberts.

As the Times tells it, Alford became obsessed with finding the mastermind of the site and using Google’s advance search option he examined materials posted within a specific date range just before Silk Road went on line. He found a chat room by someone with the screen name “Altoid.” He then found and read everything written by Altoid and found a message that Altoid had deleted but which had been saved in a response by another user. Altoid was asking for programming help and gave his email address as Alford used this information and found Ross Ulbricht, a man from Texas who admired free market economist Ludwig von Mises.

A check on Ulbricht revealed a prior case on him involving fake ID’s. Interestingly, Ulbricht’s address was a few hundred feet from a cafe where Dread Pirate Roberts had signed in to Silk Road.

Ulbricht was convicted and sentenced to life in prison this year.