A 61-year-old Canadian man who acted as a mentor to Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Ulbricht’s confidant, known publicly by his online pseudonyms “Variety Jones” and “Mongoose” advocated in favor of a hired hitman and reportedly helped Ulbricht see “a larger vision” for the now defunct Darknet drug marketplace, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Jones, whose real name is Roger Thomas Clark, received the two-decade sentence in a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday for “conspiring to distribute massive quantities of narcotics.” Clark had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute narcotics in 2020 following his arrest in Thailand three years prior. US District Judge Sidney H. Stein on Tuesday rejected Clark’s plea to serve no more than seven and a half years in prison. Now, Clark will likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.
“Roger Thomas Clark was a central figure in helping to lead Silk Road and in advocating violence, even murder, to protect this digital drug empire” US District Attorney Damian Williams, said in a statement. “Today’s sentence is another reminder that criminal marketplaces, like Silk Road, are a road to prison.”
Clark, during a previous 2016 interview from a Thai prison, told Ars Technica, “Guilt is a technical term.”
Who was Variety Jones?
In its press release, the US Attorney’s Office cited Ulbricht’s personal journal, which described Clark as a “real mentor,” who advised him on security vulnerabilities on the site and the promotion of narcotics sales. Prosecutors say Clark played a critical role in helping to shield Ulbricht and the Silk Road from law enforcement investigations. In an extreme example, Clark urged Ulbricht to commission a murder for hire against a former Silk Road staffer accused of stealing more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of bitcoin from the site. The planned assassination never manifested, but prosecutors claim Ulbricht paid $80,000 towards its completion.
Clark was extradited to the US in 2018 after spending 2.5 years in a Thailand prison where he claimed he was subject to brutal treatment by authorities. Judge Stein, in a sentencing statement seen by Wired, described Clark as a radical opponent of drug laws who “misguidedly turned his belief that drugs should be legal into material assistance for a criminal enterprise.”
“These beliefs crossed over into patently illegal behavior,” Stein added.
Clark’s sentence comes nearly eight years after Ulbrich, who went by the name Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison. The Silk Road, which prosecutors called “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet at the time,” was shut down by the FBI in 2013.