Monday 10 December 2018

From Kilpedder to a US jail, downfall of the geek in global dark web racket

Gary Davis faces up to 20 years in prison after admitting his role in an online drug conspiracy, writes Maeve Sheehan

BATTLE: Gary Davis fought against extradition to the US. Picture: Courtpix
BATTLE: Gary Davis fought against extradition to the US. Picture: Courtpix
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

He was a 25-year-old computer geek with a well-groomed goatee who lived in a semi-d in Wicklow with his unsuspecting parents, not the sort you would consider the target of an international police investigation.

Yet Gary Davis drew the Garda's National Economic Crime Bureau into one of its biggest international criminal investigations that delved into the dark web, the online trading place for illicit goods including drugs.

In a New York court last Friday, Davis, now 30, having failed to halt his extradition to the US, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to distribute narcotics on the dark web trading site, Silk Road. Davis is facing a possible prison term of up to 20 years in a maximum-security prison. The FBI regarded Silk Road as sophisticated criminal marketplace, allowing anonymous users to trade in - among other things - hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs for which they paid in the crypto currency, Bitcoin.

Ross Ulbricht, a 30-something American science graduate, was Silk Road's mastermind. He was arrested in October 2013, while on his laptop in a public library in San Francisco, and Silk Road was shut down. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

Ulbricht's laptop delivered up three others whom the FBI believed helped him keep the criminal marketplace going. The FBI recovered the identity details of Andrew Jones from Virginia and a nurse in Australia called Peter Nash. They also found the scanned passport image of Gary Davis.

The FBI believed they were administrators of Silk Road, paid salaries in Bitcoin of between $50,000 and $75,000 a year to handle queries and defuse rows among the people buying and selling on the site.

It is not clear how Ulbricht and Davis first hooked up but they clearly met online. Davis, using the pseudonym Libertas, was recruited to help administer the site, working directly with customers and traders. For this, he was paid in $1,500 in Bitcoin every week, according to logs later recovered from Ulbricht's computer.

In December 2013, after weeks of surveillance of their targets and minute orchestration, police on three continents prepared to move in unison against the suspects.

It was evening in Co Wicklow. Gary Davis tapped away oblivious on his computer at home in Kilpedder as a team of gardai prepared to mount a raid. Davis was in his bedroom on his laptop when detectives burst in. Davis was brought before the High Court weeks later, in January 2014, for an application by the US authorities for his extradition. Davis fought against it, claiming that he has Asperger's Syndrome and his detention in the US would breach his rights.

His lawyers argued that he also suffered from depression and "generalised anxiety with thoughts of self-harm and suicide" that were "exacerbated by a fear of isolation and separation if imprisoned in the United States. But the State claimed that his Asperger's was "mild" and that it had been diagnosed only since his arrest. He also enjoyed several relationships.

Davis's court fight took five years, during which time he continued to post on social media from time to time, once joking about looking forward to getting "three hot meals a day" - a reference to prison.

The Supreme Court dismissed Davis's appeal earlier this summer, clearing the way for his extradition. When he first appeared in a New York court the following month, Davis faced several conspiracy charges, and on Friday he pleaded guilty to one of those charges, conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

He is due to be sentenced in January.

Sunday Independent

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