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Two tied to online drug market plead guilty to U.S. drug charges

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two men tied to an illegal online drug marketplace pleaded guilty to drug charges, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday, a day after the alleged mastermind of the website indicated he would plead not guilty.

An administrator of the Silk Road website, Curtis Green, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine, and a vendor, Jacob Theodore George IV, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute drugs including heroin, said Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

"People who believe they can commit crimes anonymously using the Internet should reconsider," Rosenstein said in a statement.

A lawyer for Green declined comment, and a lawyer for George did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pleas came amid a crackdown by U.S. authorities on the use of virtual currencies for illegal activity. Last month, Ross William Ulbricht, who prosecutors say operated the Silk Road website, was arrested and FBI agents shut the website down.

On Wednesday a lawyer for Ulbricht, who remains in custody, said his client would plead not guilty to drug trafficking, hacking and money laundering charges.

A new website with the Silk Road name and appearance has opened for business.

'FLUSH' AND 'CHRONICPAIN'

The Silk Road website, which was used to anonymously buy or sell illegal drugs, also offered guns and assassins for sale, and tutorials on hacking ATM machines, prosecutors said.

Green, 47, who is also known as "Flush" and "chronicpain," was responsible for responding to complaints from buyers and sellers on Silk Road, mediating their disputes, and investigating any law enforcement activity on the website, according to prosecutors.

Green helped an undercover agent find a buyer for one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of cocaine for around $27,000 in virtual Bitcoin currency, prosecutors said, and acted as a go-between on the deal.

An undercover postal inspector delivered the drugs to Green at his home in Utah, officials said.

George, a 32-year-old Maryland resident, was the first vendor selling illegal drugs on Silk Road to be arrested, officials said.

He pleaded guilty on Wednesday, the government said.

Green faces up to 40 years in prison and George faces up to 20 years.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Paul Simao)

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