- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A computer programmer associated with the infamous Silk Road website faces up to five years in prison for lying about his ties with the long-shuttered online drug bazaar, the Department of Justice said Monday.

Michael R. Weigand, 56, of Kirkland, Ohio, surrendered to authorities and pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to a federal agent, the Justice Department announced in a news release afterward.

Weigand lied about his involvement with Silk Road, which shuttered in October 2013, when federal agents questioned him about the site more than five years later in early 2019, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors announced the plea and made public a single-count information charging Weigand in Manhattan federal court and said he is set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III on Dec. 17.

Additional details about the case, including the contact information for any lawyer defending Weigand who might be reached for comment, could not be found in public court records as of Wednesday afternoon.

Silk Road launched on the darknet in early 2011 and was among the first major sites of its kind to provide a platform for people to buy and sell illicit goods using the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

The site facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drug deals and other illicit transactions before it was dismantled, according to the FBI. Many related criminal cases have since run their course.

Weigand, known online by usernames such as “Shabang,” repeatedly lied to FBI and IRS agents who questioned him about Silk Road in January 2019, according to the Justice Department.

Despite originally telling authorities otherwise, the Justice Department said Weigand was in touch with people convicted of charges related to running Silk Road: Ross William Ulbricht and Roger Thomas Clark.

Weigand had actually communicated with Ulbricht’s pseudonym, “Dread Pirate Roberts, and was working for Clark, or “Variety Jones,” while each of them was still running Silk Road, according to prosecutors.

In addition to offering technical advice to Silk Road’s convicted operators, Weigand traveled to London to remove evidence from Clark’s residence in late 2013, the government announced in the news release.

“Weigand and others used their skills and savvy to create a secret online enclave for criminals to trade in illegal drugs and illicit goods and services,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “When Weigand was confronted, he lied about his involvement – once again thinking we weren’t smart enough to catch him.”

Ulbricht, a Texan, was arrested on Oct. 1, 2013. Silk Road was dismantled within days, and Ulbricht was ultimately convicted of several crimes related to running the site and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Clark, a Canadian, was arrested in Thailand in 2015, extradited to the U.S. in 2018 and ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. He has not yet been sentenced.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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