The Silk Road Defense: He Is Not Any Black Market Mastermind


Yes, his lawyer acknowledged in federal court that Ross Ulbricht started the Silk Road website that will in its brief heyday end up being the Amazon of illegal drugs. But he wasn’t a kingpin who oversaw vast sums of dollars’ worth of black market transactions. No, his lawyer insisted, Ulbricht was an idealistic and naive kid who got trapped with professional criminals and used as a fall guy after the Silk Road empire was doomed.

“Silk Road was Ross’s idea, and he created it,” defense attorney Joshua Dratel declared on Tuesday during his opening statement. But Ulbricht’s intention was more to produce a libertarian marketplace than an expansive online drug bazaar. “It’s a sort of experiment, an economics experiment,” Dratel said, “and following a couple of months it got too stressful.”

Ulbricht, 30, has always maintained his innocence nonetheless it hasn’t been clear how he’d argue for this. In the end, when he was arrested in a SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA public library in October 2013, he previously his laptop available to the Silk Road administrator’s page. Using the pc were diaries outlining the conception of Silk Road and its own operation, in accordance with prosecutors, in addition to $ 18 million in Bitcoin. The haplessness of Ulbricht’s arrest only underscores his complete insufficient the savvy had a need to run a surgical procedure like Silk Road, his lawyer explained. The defense will argue that the type on trial in Manhattan-the Dread Pirate Roberts, nom de Internet of the Silk Road’s mastermind-is still on the market somewhere.

The Silk Road trial has promised to be both a significant look at online crime and anonymity, and a great tale. Those that packed the federal courthouse on Tuesday got a little bit of both. Timothy Howard, among the prosecutors in the event, started his opening statement by describing “a dark and secret part” of the web with salacious details: 1 million drug deals have been completed on Silk Road, worth over $ 210$ 200 million, before it had been turn off. Prosecutors declare that Ulbricht developed the theory for Silk Road in ’09 2009, built the web site, and advertised it by mentioning it in a variety of drug-related boards. The initial products on the webpage: hallucinogenic mushrooms that Ulbricht allegedly grew himself. Prosecutors also declare that Ulbricht eventually attemptedto resort to violence to keep up his power. If the defendant didn’t benefit from the trappings of wealth, the federal government argues, it had been only because he planned to lay low before escaping to the Caribbean.

The prosecution’s first witness, a particular agent with the Department of Homeland Security, began seizing envelopes containing small amounts of Ecstasy pills in nov 2011. As the agency occasionally captured contraband being shipped through the mail, these envelopes were different. Envelopes with several pills were more often than not isolated events; in this instance, however, agents found batches of identically packaged shipments which makes it clear a sizable commercial operation had begun. DHS confiscated 3,600 envelopes on the next 2 yrs and arrested numerous dealers associated with the website. Information from those arrests helped the feds setup a worker account at Silk Road, which allowed the federal government to communicate directly with the Dread Pirate Roberts.

None of the Silk Road Jurors Read News on the Internet

The first day of an effort likely to last for greater than a month saw the initial instance of what promises to become a numbing task of trying to explain to jurors the rather esoteric technology found in the case. Prosecutors launched right into a basic explanation of Tor, an instrument for anonymous Internet browsing had a need to access Silk Road, at about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Several jurors were visibly droopy-eyed at this stage.

One technical point elided in Howard’s remarks was the means where investigators uncovered the positioning of Silk Road’s servers and Ulbricht himself. This is a controversial point in pretrial hearings, with Ulbricht’s legal team claiming that a lot of the evidence ought to be excluded unless the FBI could explain how it had been obtained. Judge Katherine Forrest instead told jurors they should assume all evidence was obtained legally.

Lawyers from both sides of the case and the judge agreed that jurors wouldn’t need any specific technical knowledge to find this case out. Nonetheless it was impossible never to observe that Ulbricht isn’t quite being tried by his peers. Throughout the jury selection process, not just a single candidate said she or he had heard about Silk Road or had any particular understanding of cybersecurity. Just a single potential juror explicitly claimed to obtain her news from the web; she didn’t make the cut. The ultimate jury is evenly split at six men and six women, and only two are anywhere near Ulbricht’s age.

The defendant arrived in court looking preppy and comfortable in a dark jacket and khakis. He was engaged along with his legal team, taking part in huddles about which jurors to challenge. He also turned around periodically to smile and nod at his family during slow moments in the trial. At one tedious point close to the end of jury selection he swiveled in his chair and feigned a large yawn.

Dratel started his opening statement with a fatherly gesture toward Ulbricht, taking a stand from his chair and grasping his client by both shoulders. Then he proceeded to speak about Ulbricht as a kid who had opted astray but shouldn’t be punished too harshly for mistakes he didn’t quite understand. In large part, however, Dratel agreed with the prosecution: The Dread Pirate Roberts was a clever and sophisticated online criminal who knew how exactly to cover his tracks and use ruthless tactics. But Ulbricht clearly wasn’t see your face, in accordance with his lawyer. Why would a criminal mastermind run his empire from the science fiction portion of the general public library? If Ulbricht was so crucial to the web drug trade, how did Silk Road’s successor websites emerge just weeks after his arrest?

Ulbricht’s defense will argue that he fled Silk Road after things got uncontrollable, immediately after its creation. But in regards to a month before his arrest, Dratel claimed, individuals running the website learned that police had identified them. In order to avoid punishment, they reached out to Ulbricht and persuaded him to defend myself against an administrative role-leaving him holding the bag.

Then there’s the problem of the $ 18 million in Bitcoin entirely on Ulbricht’s computer when he was arrested. Dratel claims this virtual fortune came not from going for a commission on vast sums of dollars’ worth of drug deals, but from placing what ended up being an excellent bet on Bitcoin when it had been practically worthless. Dratel promised showing that the amount of cash that Dread Pirate Roberts must have made through the website would dwarf anything Ulbricht was found holding.

Explaining what sort of multimillion-dollar fortune is really a pittance is merely among the counterintuitive narrative threads that Dratel will need certainly to make convincing to jurors. But that’s what should make another month so interesting. “This case, to a big extent, is approximately the web and the digital world,” said Dratel, “where not everything reaches it appears.”


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