Five students from the University of Manchester who sold more than £800,000 ($1.12 million) worth of drugs on the dark web using Bitcoin have been sentenced and jailed — the ringleader, Basil Assaf, has received 15 years and three months.
Assaf and his accomplice James Roden were arrested at their Manchester city centre flat on the day the FBI shut down Silk Road in October 2013. Agents found laptops used to access the dark web, thousands of pounds in cash, and drugs including LSD, ecstasy, ketamine, and diazepam. The value of their sales was at least £812,000, the court heard, but their profits are likely to have grown exponentially due to the rise in the value of Bitcoin over the past few years. Prosecutors have so far been unable to trace Assaf’s Bitcoin.
Dark Web Dreams
According to reports, the men partied in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Amsterdam before being intercepted. The group, who likened themselves to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, included undergraduates studying pharmacology, computer science, petrochemical engineering, geology, and marketing.
Throughout the trial the Manchester crown court heard how the group originally sold drugs to fellow students to fund their own habits, then expanding their operation, selling ecstasy, LSD, and ketamine across Europe, the US, Australia, and New Zealand on the now-defunct online drug marketplace Silk Road.
At one point the group was nominated for “drug dealer of the year” on the site, leading Assaf to brag to his accomplice Jaikishen Patel:
“Nominated for shotter of the year haha on SR. Someone posted a thread and prof nominated us. TBF if they knew what we did IRL we do deserve it.”
Between May 2011 and October 2013 — though 6,300 transactions with buyers across the world — the group sold 16.7kg of ecstasy worth $750,000, as well as 1.23kg of 2CB, a drug that mimics the effects of ecstasy, and 1.46kg of ketamine. Sentencing the group, Judge Michael Leeming said use of the dark web was an aggravating factor and that the harmful and dangerous class A drugs wrought misery on society.
“As intelligent men, you will each appreciate the misery that is caused and contributed to by people like you,” he said. “My duty is threefold: firstly, to protect the public from people like you. Second, to punish you, and third, to deter those who may be similarly minded to act this way in the future.” Leeming added: “These offenses are so serious that only immediate custody and sentences of some length can be considered.”
The ringleader, Basil Assaf, 26, was sentenced to 15 years and three months in prison. Family members of Assaf, a petrochemical engineering student who had no previous convictions, cried and hugged each other as he was led to the cells.
James Roden, 25, who studied computer science, and Jaikishen Patel, 26, who studied pharmacology, were both involved with the Silk Road account and the buying and supplying of drugs. Roden received a 12-year prison sentence and Patel was jailed for 11 years and two months.
Elliot Hyams, 26 — a geology student who had been at Dr Challoner’s grammar school in Amersham, Buckinghamshire with Assaf — was involved in the underworld startup but was thrown out after Assaf “lost patience” with him, according to the judge. Hyams was jailed for 11 years and three months.
Joshua Morgan, 28, who studied marketing, played the smallest role in the group — packaging the drugs for sale. He was jailed for seven years and two months.