Dark web identity gets blue card

IN MAY last year Peter Phillip Nash reportedly held his head in his hands as a New York judge told him he would be freed from jail.

Nash had just served 18 months in the American prison system over accusations he conspired to traffic drugs and launder money on the dark web.

He had been facing another eight and a half years jail but that judgment, where it was recognised he wasn't a major player in the online drug ring, meant he would walk free.

Now the one time moderator of the Silk Road website - which purportedly made $200 million worth of narcotics sales - has been granted a blue card enabling him to work with children.

Last December, Queensland's Public Safety Business Agency informed Mr Nash his blue card had been revoked.

This year he appealed that decision in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Member Michelle Howard, in a judgment published today, said while Nash had technically pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic drugs, he was really just a website moderator.

"It has been only a little over two and half years since Mr Nash ceased using drugs," Ms Howard wrote in her finding.

"I am satisfied that in Mr Nash's case, the risk is very low ... for both similar charges or drug-taking."

Nash's brush with the law began in December 2013 when he was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and then taken to the US to face trial.

Mr Nash's pleas were that he became involved with the dark web site when his work became challenging and isolating, to buy illicit controlled substances for his own use and for social connection.

Conspiring to traffic drugs normally carries a minimum 10-year jail sentence but the American judge accepted that Nash was a mere website moderator not an active player in one of the world's biggest online narcotics rings.

"He was asked by the person/s behind Silk Road (whom he did not personally know other than online) to moderate a chat forum on an associated website (which contained discussions about Silk Road and other issues, but through which drugs were not sold)," Ms Nash wrote in her QCAT judgment.

"He agreed and did so for some 10 months.

"He was paid (in bitcoins) as an employee to moderate the forum.

"He used the money he earned (equivalent to about A$25,000) to purchase illicit drugs for his own consumption from Silk Road.

"He agreed that he knew the proceeds were from narcotics trafficking and that it was being processed in a way to hide the moneys from law enforcement.

"He was aware that significant quantities of drugs were distributed through Silk Road. The prosecution told the court that in all about $200 million worth of narcotics sales were conducted at the site, although there is no suggestion that Mr Nash knew the volume was so large."

While he was working for Silk Road, Nash was also working for the Queensland Government in a role where he helped intellectually disabled people back on track after they had received a criminal conviction.

Because of Nash's minimal involvement in actual drug dealing and the fact he had been a model prisoner, he was granted what is called a safety valve relief.

This enabled the judge to set him free instead of giving the 10-year minimum sentence for drug trafficking.

Ms Howard, in assessing his suitability for a blue card, said Mr Nash did not see his drug-taking as problematic until the Silk Road events unfolded.

"Rather as a young person, he had considered it was part of the affluent lifestyle of a young professional," she said.

"He admits now that he naively thought other users of Silk Road were like him.

"He observed first-hand the devastating effect drugs had on his life and the lives of other prisoners.

"He accepts that he was naive in believing that he could use drugs socially and they were not harmful when used in that way…"

Mr Nash's girlfriend, an organisational psychologist, gave evidence at his blue card hearing that his drug addiction arose when he was "severely burnt out" and getting work calls in the middle of the night.

She said lived with him now and saw no signs Mr Nash had urges to take drugs or drink alcohol in excess.

"She has seen him with many children of mutual friends. She considers that he is responsible and thoughtful to their needs," Ms Howard said.

" She describes him as having a strong commitment to client empowerment and as an advocate for the wellbeing of others."

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