A federal judge imposed a six-year sentence Friday on Jacob Theodore George IV, who sold heroin on the online drug bazaar Silk Road.
George, 33, an Edgewood man with a history of arrests, drug abuse and mental health problems, apologized to the judge. He said he cried as he confessed to the federal agents who caught him.
"I made a bad decision helping with Silk Road," George said, reading from prepared notes.
George, who was taken into custody in early 2012, was one of the first dealers on the site to be arrested. Silk Road used anonymizing software to make it difficult for investigators to track individual users, who made payments secretly using bitcoin, an electronic currency.
George used the site to sell heroin from Baltimore and the synthetic drug methylone under the alias Digitalink.
His arrest helped the Department of Homeland Security build a case against the site's alleged mastermind, Ross William Ulbricht.
Homeland Security agents teamed up with the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Ulbricht — also alleged to have used the name Dread Pirate Roberts — was arrested in San Francisco last October. He was charged with drug and money laundering offenses.
As agents worked to build their case and take down Silk Road, George stewed at the Chesapeake Detention Facility, a high-security federal lockup in downtown Baltimore. He spent 21/2 years there, time that will be subtracted from his sentence.
George's attorney, Paul D. Hazlehurst, said his client suffered a severe beating while held there — an incident Hazlehurst said started after George wouldn't let another inmate use a jail phone.
But George also described putting his computer skills to use, building an online system for inmates to access information about their incarceration.
"I have so much potential," he told the judge.
Ulbricht also appeared in court Friday and pleaded not guilty to a new indictment filed against him by prosecutors in Manhattan. His trial is set to start in November in New York. He also faces charges in Maryland over a suspected, unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot against one of his team.
On Thursday, Charlie Shrem, a 24-year-old entrepreneur, pleaded guilty in New York to working with another man to help Silk Road users obtain bitcoins. Shrem was a prominent figure in the bitcoin community: He founded the exchange Bitinstant and served as vice chairman of a foundation that promotes the currency.
The Silk Road case revealed the extent to which drug traffickers have taken their trade online, and Hazlehurst and prosecutor Justin Shibayama Herring dueled over whether that made George's crime more serious or less so.
Herring said Silk Road allowed people who might be too timid to buy drugs from a street dealer to get hooked on dangerous narcotics. Because many of the drugs sold through the site came from traditional suppliers, he said, it did not cut down on violence.
"There needs to be a serious sentence here," Herring said.
But Hazlehurst asked the judge to consider whether people in East and West Baltimore who confront drug-related violence every day would think taking the trade online was a bad thing.
In crafting her sentence, Judge Catherine C. Blake said she thought online drug dealing did still carry risks of violence and harmed drug users. But she accepted that George had taken responsibility for his actions, and the prison term she imposed was shorter than federal sentencing guidelines suggest.