This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
For a brief period between 2012 and 2013, Dutch computer scientist Cornelis Jan “Maikel” Slomp was a very rich man.
At just 22, Slomp had made millions in Bitcoin selling MDMA and other drugs on the pioneering, now-defunct dark web marketplace Silk Road. His account, SuperTrips, was so successful it earned him a reputation as the “Pablo Escobar of Silk Road”. But only 15 months into his drug career, he was arrested as part of an undercover FBI operation and sentenced to ten years in a US prison. Silk Road was closed down that same year.
Slomp was recently granted compassionate early release from prison. He had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with COVID-19, but made a full recovery. Now back at his family home in the town of Woerden, population 50,000, he agreed to tell VICE his side of the story.
Slomp’s life reads like a movie script, so it’s unsurprising he’s currently shopping his story around to various film studios. “I’m notorious, and if I can make some money off of that, it’s fine with me,” he said. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been portrayed on-screen – in 2017, he was the reluctant protagonist of Dutch made-for-TV movie Silk Road, aired by the public broadcaster NPO. His lawyers sued the network for portraying him in a bad light.
Ironically, it was NPO that originally inspired Slomp’s foray into dealing. “I learned about Silk Road from an episode of Spuiten en Slikken (Shooting up and Swallowing),” he said, referring to a popular and controversial talk show about sex and drugs that aired on Dutch public TV from 2005 to 2018. The episode explained how to find the Silk Road website and use Bitcoin for payments.
“I wanted to buy some MDMA, but nobody was selling it, so I started doing it myself,” Slomp said. “I’m not into alcohol or smoking at all, but taking ecstasy made me think that everyone should try it. From that moment on, everything just flowed.”
The Netherlands is one of the world’s largest producers of MDMA. This meant Slomp could buy the drugs in Amsterdam relatively cheap and resell them online, profiting from the higher prices in other countries. “I bought DVD cases in bulk and put the vacuum-sealed drugs in there,” he said. He then put the DVD cases in envelopes to be sent abroad.
At the time, Slomp was a programmer and this was just his side gig. But after making €15,000 (£13,000) in his first month, he immediately quit his job. With more time on his hands, Slomp grew his operation, telling anyone who questioned his sudden success that he had a software company that was doing very well. Slomp claims that, at the time, he wasn’t spending that much money, but admitted to buying “a few cars”, including a Bentley, two Audis and a Mercedes Benz. That attracted some attention from neighbours.
By 2013, Slomp had made 380,000 Bitcoin, valued at €3 million (£2.6 million) at the time. According to court documents, he sold about 104 kilograms of MDMA, 566,000 ecstasy pills, four kilograms of cocaine and “substantial quantities” of amphetamine, LSD, weed, ketamine and Xanax.
Slomp had become too successful. “That’s when I quit, it was too stressful,” he said. “I’d spend 16 hours a day on the job, even though I had a few people working for me.” But it was too late to walk away – FBI agents had been on his case for a while, after finding his fingerprints on the DVD cases. According to Slomp, someone offered to buy his account’s name and take over his business on the website, but it was a setup. He flew to the US to finalise the transaction and left the airport in a police car instead of the Lamborghini he’d booked.
Slomp had been questioned by the Dutch police before, but had never been charged with anything. “That made me feel untouchable,” he said. He was arrested at a party once, but since he only had a small amount of drugs on him, he only spent the weekend in jail. “They could have searched my house, but they didn’t,” he said. “There comes a point when you think the Dutch police are just a bunch of amateurs. I was already making a lot of money at that time.”
Despite those run-ins with the law, Slomp said he didn’t expect to be arrested. Worst case scenario, he figured he would only have to deal with the Dutch system, where he believes he would have faced only one or two years of incarceration. “But goddamn, they’re crazy in the US,” he said. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but got a reduction after handing over his Bitcoin stash. People often remind him they could be worth billions now, but he always thought his freedom was more important. “What’s the use of having a few hundred million euros if you’re in prison?” he said.
Ross Ulbricht, an American citizen who founded Silk Road, didn’t get off so easily – he got two life sentences, plus 40 years. “More jail time than El Chapo,” Slomp remarked. On the inside, Slomp was surprised that people treated him like a hero. “All anybody cares about is how much money you made,” he said. “The people who are in prison over there, they have never even heard of a million. They got convicted for a few grams.” He said even the cops and the attorney general kept repeating that what he did was incredible. “Not once did anyone actually say I did a bad thing,” Slomp claimed.
Despite his status, Slomp’s prison time wasn’t easy. He said he was continually transferred from one side of the country to the other, and was often kept in the dark about what was going on. To curb overcrowding, US inmates are often sent to public and private prisons in other states without prior warning, where they have to adapt to a new environment and different systems. Slomp also claimed he once ended up in solitary confinement for four months for smuggling in contact lenses so he could see properly.
Yet, even after all this time behind bars, Slomp doesn’t think that what he did was wrong. “People will use drugs no matter what. But on Silk Road, they knew they were good quality. I had all that stuff tested,” he said. Like any other online marketplace, Silk Road allowed customers to review sellers’ accounts.
Now that he’s out, Slomp said he isn’t planning on returning to the drug trade. “Everybody knows who I am – I would be way too visible,” he said. Instead, he’s now building a career as a prison consultant to help US inmates navigate the chaotic system. “It would be weird to go back to an office and start programming again,” he said. “My employers would Google me, and all they’d see is the criminal stuff.”