Canadian citizen Thomas Roger Clark has been arrested by the FBI in Thailand and is awaiting extradition to the United States on charges of money laundering conspiracy and narcotics conspiracy. If convicted of both charges he could face anywhere between thirty years and life in prison.
The FBI alleges that Clark went by the online names “Variety Jones,” “Plural of Mongoose” “Cimon” and others. Under those names, Clark is said to have acted as a “senior adviser” to Ross Ulbricht, who was tried and convicted of being the head of the Silk Road website, an underground online market where drugs were frequently sold (Ulbricht’s case is in appeal).
What is curious about the Department of Justice’s press release is that the comments included seem to paint a picture of an office that is filled with jubilation after a difficult investigation led them to find an alleged criminal who used technology and the internet to make himself invisible.
“The arrest of Roger Thomas Clark shows again that conducting criminal activities on the Dark Web does not keep a criminal out of law enforcement’s reach. As alleged, Clark was paid at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to act as a counselor to Ross Ulbricht’s black-market bazaar, Silk Road. Clark may have thought residing in Thailand would keep him out of reach of U.S authorities, but our international partnerships have proven him wrong. We thank our law enforcement partners who have worked with the FBI on this case” said FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez.
Yet Clark made headlines in September when he announced on a marijuana themed message board that he was “turning himself in” because, he alleged, a corrupt FBI agent Clark called “Diamond” was hunting him and trying to extort bitcoins the agent believed were controlled by Ulbricht and possibly Clark. In a post describing the ordeal, Clark showed several emails of himself attempting to turn himself in, emails he says were ignored. The Department of Justice refused at the time to comment on the case, only saying that they were concerned about the accusations of corruption.
But what is important as it pertains to this case is that Clark made a clear attempt to turn himself in, and he was seemingly ignored until he brought the entire ordeal public (his post was later picked up by a variety of news outlets). In that post, if not the emails to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office, he clearly laid out where he was residing and how he could be found. He was literally, not figuratively, begging the authorities to bring him in.
Yet the Department of Justice’s press release for the event seems to illustrate the exact opposite, that Clark was a determined fugitive who was only unearthed thanks to the hard work of law enforcement. The problem is that the timeline of publicly verifiable events don’t match up with their narrative. But if the authorities are painting a different narrative, then what is their aim?
Variety Jones appears in the personal diaries unearthed during the Ross Ulbricht trials, in those documents, Ulbricht calls Variety Jones “the biggest and strongest willed character I had met through the site thus far” and was a well known marijuana seed dealer in the UK.
While the account “Variety Jones” was best known for selling marijuana seeds, the criminal complaint against him includes Heroin, LSD, Cocaine and methamphetamine as substances Clark conspired to distribute, although that charge may have more to do with his alleged involvement with the site at a whole as opposed to actual sales made by the account, but we will have to wait until the trial to confirm that. An archived version of Variety Jones’ silk road vendor page lists only marijuana seeds for sale.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara explained what the authorities believe Clark’s role in the site was
“Like a consigliere, Roger Thomas Clark allegedly served as a trusted confidante to Silk Road founder and operator Ross Ulbricht, advising him on all aspects of this illegal business, including how to maximize profits and use threats of violence to thwart law enforcement.”
Then Bharara can’t help but take time to mention the hard work that he and the rest of involved law enforcement put forth to catch Clark
“Thanks to the investigative work of our fellow law enforcement agencies and our international partners, Clark is in custody and awaits American justice.”
If you didn’t already know the back story and were not aware of the Variety Jones case, you would think this arrest went down like a thousand others and wasn’t the result of Clark publicly turning himself in. Articles about the arrest in the mainstream media haven’t been doing much to educate the public either.
The criminal complaint does not mention Clark’s attempts to turn himself in, but instead cites evidence from the Ulbricht trial and a unnamned Witness said to be co-operating with law enforcement on the Silk Road case as reason for Clark’s guilt. The evidence presented seems substantial but omitting that the suspect publicly announced his presence to the world seems curious.
I did consider that perhaps they didn’t buy his story. Maybe they feel that Clark simply felt the heat coming down and decided to make a big show of turning himself in, in hopes of receiving mercy come trial time. But if that was the case, why did it take nearly four months to track him down, when he was in the exact place he said he was in? Had they picked him up in a day or even a week, or if they found him crossing a border, trying to evade capture, then it would make sense but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
In dealing with the justice system, it is a commonly-held belief that turning yourself in is usually a better solution than getting caught. The theory is that leniency shown during sentencing for criminals that turn themselves in will lead to more of turning themselves in and ultimately, fewer criminals on the street.
With Ulbricht’s verdict and life-long sentence currently up for appeal and the recent conviction of two government agents involved in the Silk Road case for corruption, is it possible that the government is trying to paint Clark as a big fish fugitive because revealing him as someone who turned himself in after possibly being hunted by an unknown third corrupt government agent, would reflect poorly on their case in the Ulbricht appeal and current government investigations into deepweb marketplaces?
That is speculation, but one thing is clear, their narrative that Clark’s capture was the result of hard work by law enforcement and the ever increasing capabilities of the “long arm of the law” is patently false. Clark turned himself in and told the whole world where he was, the DOJ should be ashamed it took them this long to bring him in, not patting themselves on the back. And we need to be asking them why.
We have reached out to the DOJ, asking if they considered Clark someone who turned himself in or as someone they brought in as an active fugitive as we were only told that he was someone who was arrested and were referred back to the press release.