Wicklow man to be extradited to the US for facilitating the distribution of narcotics on an anonymous online black market
The High Court has ordered the extradition of a 27-year-old man from Wicklow to the United States, where he is wanted for various offences in connection to his alleged employment as an administrator for an anonymous online marketplace renowned for providing narcotics and weaponry, which was consequently the subject of an FBI investigation.
A warrant for the arrest of Mr Gary Davis was issued by the US in December 2013 alleging that Mr Davis committed conspiracy to: (i) distribute narcotics; (ii) commit computer hacking; and (iii) commit money laundering.
All of the offences were in relation to the online marketplace, Silk Road, which earned $79.8 million in commission for the provision of ‘illegal drugs and other illegal goods and services, including computer hacking services’.
The State argued that the extradition request was valid and executable, and that Davis should therefore be surrendered and extradited to the US.
Lawyers on behalf of Mr Davis objected to the extradition citing a number of grounds, including the violation of fundamental rights.
The Silk Road website began operating in January 2011, providing ‘a forum through which many types of illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and LSD, were sold’.
The website provided an infrastructure similar to well known online marketplaces, allowing sellers and buyers to conduct transactions online – unlike ‘legitimate websites, Silk Road was designed to facilitate illegal commerce by ensuring absolute anonymity on the part of both buyers and sellers’.
US authorities were able to identify the owner and operator of Silk Road as Ross Ulbricht (a US citizen), then identifying Davis as ‘a member of Ulbricht’s support staff’.
While Davis’ alleged involvement did not commence until June 2013 – from January 2011 to October 2013, ‘Davis and other members of the conspiracy both known and unknown intentionally and knowingly conspired to violate the narcotics laws of the United States’.
In addition, ‘the Silk Road website also provided a platform for the purchase and sale of malicious software designed for computer hacking such as password stealers, key loggers, and remote access tools’.
Finally, ‘confirmation of Davis’s role as a member of the Silk Road was uncovered from the computer seized in connection with Ulbricht’s arrest’ – a folder where Ulbricht stored copies of identification documents he required his employees to provide in order to get paid, included an image file of ‘an Irish passport held in the name of Gary Davis’.
The money laundering charge was in relation to transactions carried out on the Silk Road website using Bitcoin accounts. Justice McDermott also outlined that Silk Road ‘advertised and used a process known as a “tumbler” which sought to obscure the link between the parties involved and effectively assist in the laundering of criminal proceeds’.
According to messages found on the site, Mr Davis was an administrator of the Silk Road site known as “Libertas”, and was alleged to have commenced working for the site on 6th June 2013 with a weekly salary of $1500, having ‘provided services at a lesser level for one month before that date’.
Messages found on the site are said to ‘provide evidence of his knowledge of the transactions which he was alleged to have facilitated and advised upon and their illegality’ – including ‘efforts he made as site administrator to organise the listing of drugs and other items on Silk Road under specific categories to render its operation more efficient and establish that he was well aware of the illegal nature of the commerce conducted on the site’.
The aforementioned listings involved ‘cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal, and other drugs’, and some references concerned the categorisation of various items as “weaponry”.
Justice McDermott was satisfied that the extradition request was valid, as it was in accordance with the requirements set out in Part II of the Extradition Act 1965 as amended.
Furthermore, he addressed each of the three offences against Mr Davis – outlining how each would correspond to an offence contrary to Irish law as set out in section 42 of the Extradition Act 1965 as amended by section 26 of the Extradition (European Union Conventions) Act 2001.
Justice McDermott rejected all of the objections made on behalf of Mr Davis which challenged the application to surrender, including arguments that:
(i) charges against Mr Davis were bad for duplicity as each charge alleged more than one offence;
(ii) Mr Davis would be exposed to a potential mandatory life sentence in respect of distributing narcotics, which would be unfair, disproportionate or unconstitutional if applied in this jurisdiction
(iii) the offences were committed in Ireland, therefore extradition should be precluded;
In relation to Mr Davis health issues, it was argued that his extradition, as a person living with Asperger’s Syndrome and suffering from mental ill health, ‘would place his health and life at grave risk’.
Accordingly, Justice McDermott had to consider whether the US sentencing process, its penal regime, and the imprisonment facilities at NYC Metropolitan Correctional Centre where Mr Davis is likely to be held upon extradition, if applied in Ireland, would violate Irish Constitution Articles 38 (due process), 40.3 (health & bodily integrity) and 40.4 (personal liberty), and ECHR Articles 3 (inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and 8 (right to respect for his private and family life).
An affidavit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – Professor Mendez –was submitted to the Court, expressing concerns about conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, and emphasising the inability of someone with Asperger’s Sydrome to cope in the facility.
Justice McDermott stated that the Court ‘must attach significant weight to the public interest’, especially in this case that encompassed an ‘international series of alleged criminal trade transactions involving the use of computers and large quantities of drugs, money and other illicit goods’.
Accordingly, he rejected all of Mr Davis’ objections, and it was held that he should be ‘surrendered and extradited’ to the US.