Hidden online drug bazaar. Murder for hire. FBI stings. And a handsome, clean-cut, reclusive 20-something who secretly became the Internet’s most powerful drug kingpin. The ostensible story of the Silk Road has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. And now, it’s about to become one.
Deadline reports that 20th Century Fox and Cherin Entertainment have hired renowned author Dennis Lehane to pen the tale of alleged Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht, who was arrested earlier this month by federal law enforcement agents. Ulbricht, 29, faces life in prison on charges related to operating Silk Road, a billion-dollar illegal drug marketplace said to have been the world’s largest, and for purportedly hiring hitmen to eliminate threats to his illicit business and livelihood.
Lehane, author of Shutter Island, Mystic River, and Gone Baby Gone, will base his script on a forthcoming article by journalist Joshua Davis, who will also serve as a producer on the project. A Wired piece by Davis about antivirus pioneer John McAfee’s tumultuous life in Belize is being adapted for film by Warner Bros. Davis is also co-founder of Epic Magazine, a website devoted to long-form journalism that is specially crafted for Hollywood adaptation, along with partner Joshua Bearman, who wrote the article that served as the basis for Best Picture Oscar winner Argo. Davis’ piece about Silk Road will appear on Epic.
The tale of Silk Road, as told by court documents filed by law enforcement, is indeed a fascinating one. In addition to raking in as much as $80 million on $1.2 billion in total sales from the online black-market, the unassuming Ulbricht, who the FBI believes launched and operated the Silk Road under the handle “Dread Pirate Roberts” or “DPR,” is said to have put out hits on two people.
The first was a former employee who had been arrested and reputedly stole a significant amount of Bitcoin, the anonymous digital currency used by Silk Road buyers and vendors, from DPR. For his murder, DPR is said to have paid $80,000. The hired gun in that instance was an undercover agent, according to court documents.
The second hit was, according to an FBI criminal complaint, put out on a Silk Road user named FriendlyChemist, who attempted to blackmail DPR for $500,000 by threatening to release the names and addresses of other users. DPR is said to have paid $150,000 for FriendlyChemist’s murder. However, authorities have found no evidence that a murder took place.
Ulbricht is scheduled to be extradited this week to New York, where he will stand trial on multiple felony counts including narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. A separate indictment, filed in Maryland, charges Ulbricht with conspiracy to commit murder of a witness, use of interstate commerce in murder-for-hire, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and aiding and abetting.
While it is no surprise that Hollywood flocked to the tale of Ulbricht and Silk Road – Deadline calls the studios’ fight for the rights to the story a “stampede” – the story still has no ending: Ulbricht has yet to be found guilty of any crimes.