The Ballad of Tony76.
On January 10, 2012 at 7:08 a.m., Tony76 registered an account at Silk Road.
Silk Road is an anonymous marketplace famous for its brazen selling of drugs. Ever since Adrian Chen wrote about the site in 2011, it’s been famously considered a successful cross between Amazon and eBay in the online drug world. Anonymous buyers and sellers depend on Bitcoins to anonymously transfer wealth and user reviews to establish trust.
There are currently over 6,000 drugs being sold at Silk Road including “10 gr high grade MDMA 80% +” for about $170, “Cocaine good quality 1.0g” for about $40 and “Extreme quality Black Tar” for about $270.
By January 18, 2012, Tony76 was already selling drugs on Silk Road. At 1:31 a.m., he established his personal and official feedback thread in the site’s forums, soliciting reviews from customers to establish trust and offering updates and news on new products.
Within a couple of days of Tony shipping his product from Canada, the positive reviews started rolling in.
“got my H today from Tony76,” wrote user toelessJoe. “Just had a small taste and I say way to go, Tony. Very good gear! Feeling double plus good right now… I truly hope that you stick around, you’re off to a great start as a new Vendor – and that potential buyers gives you a try.”
The reviews were good enough to provoke excitement from users and even a bit of hopeful skepticism from potential buyers. When more and more positive feedback came in, user oldschoolclubkid said some of the reviews looked strange, wished Tony luck and said he’d have to wait and see. He eventually became a buyer.
Several customers wrote that they’d spent the best $20 of their lives on Tony’s products. Tony offered a wide selection of drugs including heroin and MDMA, his most popular products.
Users continued to post detailed reviews of their experiences.
“So i had just under half a cc of the rig filled,” wrote MacMan after receiving Tony’s vacuum-sealed heroin in the mail. “Plunged that bitch down about halfway, felt a little burn, stopped there, pulled it out, because i started to feel the rush and didnt wanna overdue it. Got a wicked awesome rush, I would say the 1st or 2nd best H i have ever done. Also it is really hard for me to feel opiates when i have been taking methadone. And this dope of tonys, i didnt even feel like i had any methadone in my system!!! It was awesome. Still havent gotten Nuc’s, but best i have tried here on SR. Fuck, if i didnt have that methadone in my system, i probably would have fucking came everywhere.”
By February, over 100 customers had posted positive feedback. In early March, Tony publicly cancelled an order from an underage customer and received congratulations for his discretion.
“Wow, I guess this is what happens when you take the criminal element out of the equation,” wrote northsidepk. “Good job Nixon Era drug war on doing just the opposite.”
For his part, Tony was enjoying the adulation that came with running a highly successful and visible new business.
“Thanks guys! Love you all!”
Tony’s customers loved him back.
“I don’t think I’m risking much,” wrote one anonymous Silk Road vendor on reddit. “It would be almost impossible for law enforcement to find me. They would need to find out where the package came from, and go to that mailbox, and have a police officer wait a few weeks for me to return to that mailbox. All just because they found a 100mg of a Schedule II drug in an envelope.
“Also, they wouldn’t suspect me. My criminal record is perfectly clean. Not even a parking misdemeanor…I doubt that I could be caught. They would need to find out the mailbox that I’ve been putting the packages in, and then have someone wait there and watch me, and then they would need to prove that I was the one who put it in the mailbox. So if they could back-track and find out where the package came from, then maybe they could catch me. Also, there are many different mailboxes around me, so I put the packages in different mailboxes each time. Definitely can’t hurt.”
By mid-April, Tony had completed over 500 orders according to his customers. Over 1,000 posts had been made publicly chiming in to vouch for Tony’s excellence. The good reviews drove new customers which drove good reviews. This is the cycle that underlies everything at Silk Road and had made Tony a lot of money in a short span.
The feedback thread was lively and long. It was mostly full of positive reviews but the occasional negativity found its way in. When packages were late, some customers got angry. If an addict expects a package on Friday, making him wait until Monday can wreck havoc. The delays were mostly not Tony’s fault. Shipping packages cross-continent meant that any hiccup from mail services could mean significant waiting for the customer.
For every negative comment made, a dozen customers came to Tony’s defense, proclaiming their love for their favorite vendor on Silk Road, a stand up guy who had gained the trust of the community. For every negative comment made about Tony, another customer was requesting that Tony would immediately expand his business into meth and other drugs.
In the beginning of April, more and more negative comments began to appear. Packages were slow. Tony76 blamed recent layoffs at the United States Postal Service.
Still, many Silk Road users gave a spirited defense of Tony.
“Tony is the best,” wrote ijumz. “He will always come through. No one has any need to worry. I know he gets backed up with more pointless messages than I can even imagine and I’m not about to add to that. If you should have faith in anyone, then it should be the #1 vendor on SR!”
A week into April saw even more claims of packages that were days and weeks late in arrival.
“Trust me guys, this is harder on me than it is on you,” wrote Tony. “You may not believe me, but i stress out a ton when things are late because i’m always worried that people will think i am unreliable etc. I wish i had the option of offering something like DSN’s [tracking packages] anonymously, but the fact is that it is impossible in canada to get tracking without being on camera somewhere.”
Tony added that because he was a top seller, he was a target for fraudulent complaints.
Other vendors were having similar shipping issues, said Tony’s defenders. The problem may have been in Canada’s postal system rather than a problem with Tony. Were they confiscating the packages? Was it low staffing and slow shipping? It seemed that no one really knew the answers and there was no place to find hints except from the anonymous posters on the Silk Road forum.
“All these posts are really stressing me out.. To the point that it’s fucked up my mood and i have been in a shit mood all day,” wrote Tony. And when, eventually, more posters wrote that they’d received their packages with high quality drugs, a happier Tony appeared on the board to say that a customer’s patience is always rewarded.
“Also guys, i’m #1 for a reason,” wrote Tony. “i take care of my customers.. so don’t worry. I wont have anyone get fucked over. We’re in this together.”
On April 9, a poster named 1ge81la7 wrote in Tony’s feedback thread.
“I just received some information that an order from Tony was intercepted and resulted in a friends house being visited by the FBI and subsequently arrested one of them. They asked how they ordered it and basically implied that they have been intercepting a lot of his packages.”
Tony immediately popped into the thread and called 1ge81la7 a scam artist, identifying her as ObamaGirl, a Silk Road vendor who had once scammed customers and was now out to take Tony off the top rung of the Silk Road ladder. Tony posted a private message apparently from ObamaGirl in which she threatened his business.
Most Silk Road posters sympathized with Tony and once again came to his defense. The exceptions were those customers who claimed to be waiting for packages for weeks overdue, a claim that was becoming increasingly common.
Tony responded to the complaints.
“All is well in Tony land… I just look at this thread and shake my head because the amount of stress vending here is starting to cause me… No matter how many hours i put in every day, i still can’t please everyone.”
Business was up and orders were increasing but problems persisted and even grew.
He wrote that he had been losing money giving people partial refunds because their packages had apparently been delayed but that he couldn’t verify the truth of most claims. Silk Road’s reputation system was broken, he said, because buyers can leave feedback for vendors but vendors can’t leave feedback for buyers. He was being scammed and it was costing him his money and his mental health.
“I’m doing the best i can guys. I take care of all my customers. Cheers.”
Few of Tony’s customers wanted to stress the top vendor on Silk Road and their new favorite drug dealer.
Soon after, ostensibly to beat the scammers, Tony began to require that all customers ‘finalize early’ by immediately paying directly to Tony as opposed to putting the money in a Silk Road escrow fund until the transaction was complete. Suddenly, the number one vendor on Silk Road was requiring all of his customers cut out the third party, circumventing the system that had made Silk Road a success.
The action was divisive.
“Silk Road is based on TOR, escrow, and bitcoins,” wrote user phubaiblues. “By requiring that everybody go out of escrow, we buyers have no recourse if things go badly. Escrow is here for a reason. I’m real uncomfortable when someone with good reputation is asked to finalize early.”
Secretly, Tony established a private invite-only site for some of his customers so that they could order directly from him completely outside of Silk Road and its community.
When some customers complained, others predictably came to Tony’s defense. Several customers wrote that they’d be furious if complaints led to Tony stopping business. No one was as good as Tony. No one got the drugs out as smoothly as him.
As the pot holiday 4/20 approached, Silk Road garnered even more attention. A 4/20 sale by the site’s founder (Dread Pirate Roberts) created excitement around the community. Tony was quick to take part “offering fabulous discounts on his products and for the first time ever opened up shop to buyers outside North America,” reported All Things Vice. “Orders flooded in from users well accustomed to receiving high quality goods from this seller and from new users, excited to have the chance to buy from such an esteemed identity.”
Tony offered holiday discounts on MDMA, heroin, cocaine, LSD and ketamine. Silk Road’s biggest holiday saw its top vendor get an awful lot of new business. Dozens of new customers posted that they were excited to make their first purchase off of Tony, the most trusted name in online drugs.
As orders flooded in, Tony required immediate payment via Bitcoin (having the customer ‘finalizing early’) from all customers until he could somehow stop scammers from hurting him financially by demanding refunds and giving him bad reviews.
Tony had registered his account in January. In just over three months, he had built up the site’s greatest reputation as a trustworthy businessman. He was known for politeness and professionalism. Most of all, he got people the drugs they wanted.
If you had problems with your shipment during the 4/20 sale, forum-goers told complainers to contact Tony privately and that he’d fix things up eventually. That’s how it had always worked in the past. Why would Tony lie now?
“Tony can handle it,” wrote MSCammer. “Just leave him alone. Stop talking about it stop screaming about late days stop sending pointless time wasting messages and STOP FREAKING OTHER PEOPLE OUT.”
Generally good reviews continued to roll in for several days following 4/20. Great ecstasy trips were described in the sort of detail that only someone on E would produce. But more and more negative reviews started to surface. Packages were late and Tony wasn’t responding to messages.
It soon became clear that no one was receiving packages ordered during the 4/20 sale.
Within a week of 4/20, Tony was accused of being a scam artist who just picked up and left with all the money he’d made from the sale. His defenders said it was illogical, that Tony had proven himself trustworthy already and that his doubters were “full of shit.”
“How has he proven he is not a scammer?,” wrote eeee. “He has only been around for THREE MONTHS. I’ve been watching you cloudy minded fools fall for shit over and over, month after month. Gullible fools will always be around, you can’t just blindly trust people on the internet, and especially the Silk Road. It’s way too easy for someone to come in here and scam everyone, the anonymous nature of it just adds to the scammer’s protective veil. If you seriously aren’t thinking by now that he could have just ran off with all of your money, there’s probably a good chance you’re an idiot.
Depending on who you talked to, eeee was a either an arrogant moron or a person airing legitimate concerns in exactly the right place: the feedback thread. eeee was initially deemed a troll. As time passed, more and more people came to his defense in the increasingly panicked forum.
The negative voices grew louder. Some threw out numbers. Tony could have stolen well over $50,000, said one forumer. According to some members, $100,000 was a realistic possibility. Defenders told doubters to relax, all the while not hearing a peep from Tony who had once been famous for his exceptional customer service.
The theories began to ring out.
Was Tony a cop? Maybe, the response came, but he’d had an awful lot of successful shipments worldwide.
Was he just a greedy scammer? Could be, said some members, but he’d exhibited the epitome of grace under pressure with the uptick in business. He was a good guy.
Why would he cut out quickly when he could keep working and keep making more than the low six figures he’d just come into? If he had kept his listings up, he could have sucked a few hundred thousand more out of the scam. Instead, it all disappeared rapidly.
Was he arrested? How could anyone at Silk Road ever know? The entire site was set up to be as anonymous and disconnected as a bustling marketplace could be.
Private messages flooded Tony’s inbox all the while but he responded to precisely zero of them. We know he saw the messages pile up because his last login date came just as the tide of forum users against him began to rise on April 25, 2012 at 09:51 p.m.
Wait, wait, wait another week, came the call from more patient users. Patience has paid off for us in the past with Tony, why wouldn’t it pay off again?
Over on reddit, one would-be customer hoped that Tony would come through. “I’m dope sick,” wrote mjolnir. “And heading to my mail box in about 30 minutes :(.”
The minutes ticked by without deliveries, the days kept coming and the argument over Tony continued. Would he come back?
“omfg stfu you whining babies,” wrote chiefrogan. “tony76 will deliver and you will suck from his god-like drug-giving nipple soon enough.”
“He’s been a member for 3 months only,” wrote Thor. “Nobody really knows him. Most big sellers know they can’t keep stay in business for too long. Tony probably just cashed out. He could easily make or already have a different account from which he could restart his business. The question is did Tony want a free $100k and a vacation instead of shipping out hundreds of packages and making little profit? If you think the answer is definitely ‘no’ because he was a nice guy and blablabla you need a reality check. If he did do this it was a smart move. A brilliant scam. I am honored to have been scammed by him. Not really, fuck you.”
Days became weeks became months without a sign of life from the number one seller on Silk Road.
Tony has not been heard from since April 25, 2012.