American Kingpin

American Kingpin by Nick Bilton traces the parallel rise and fall of the Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht.  It is written in the non-fiction style popularized by Ben Mezrich (21, The Social Network).  Bilton has a note on his sources, and this is one of the first books which uses protagonist's digital footprint as a main source of truth.  American Kingpin is an entertaining read, but like a lot of American entertainment it glorifies the triumph of law enforcement over a law breaker.

An interesting section of American Kingpin was the description of the multi-agency task force that was formed to catch the Dred Pirate Roberts.  One of the key figures in the task force was a postal inspector at O’Hare airport who decided to stop the flow of ecstasy into America after coming across a few envelopes in the mail.  This government employee spent hours looking for similar packages, and then “traced” the envelopes back to the Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht.

American Kingpin details how the DEA agents on that task force got close to the Dred Pirate Roberts.   After the DEA intercepted a drug package sent via the Silk Road and blamed a third party in Utah for stealing the package, the undercover DEA agent pushed the Red Pirate Roberts to authorize a hit on the man.  After volunteering to carry out the murder and getting Dred Pirate Roberts to pay, the DEA agents faked the death of the man in Utah.  This is a true story.  The US Attorney attempted to charge Dred Pirate Roberts with this crime as well as 5 other murders, but couldn’t because there was no proof that any of these murders actually happened.   

There was a happy ending to this portion of the story.  While entrapping, the Dred Pirate Roberts the DEA agents were also diverting money into their own pockets.  During the course of the investigation they were caught, and went to prison.  Of course their sentences significantly shorter than the 30 year sentence Ross Ulbricht received.

Ulbricht was convicted engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking.  It will be interesting to see how governments (Russia, Estonia, & China) treat digital currencies.

Bilton was interviewed about American Kingpin on the Longform podcast, and he has a podcast called The Hive where he interviewed the Winklevoss twins about their digital currency adventures.

Author: Jon

Digital currency and blockchain enthusiast.

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