Roundup The trial of accused Silk Road ringleader Ross Ulbricht continued despite inclement weather in New York City this week, with prosecutors seeking to rubbish Ulbricht's attorneys' earlier claim that someone else ran the darknet drugs souk.
On Monday, Gary Alford, a special agent with the US Internal Revenue Service, gave evidence linking Ulbricht to accounts on Bitcoin and drugs discussion forums where he allegedly advertised Silk Road, describing the site as "an Amazon.com for drugs."
Alford testified that in one post from October 2011, Ulbricht said he was looking for an "IT pro" to help with the site and asked interested parties to contact him at his own Gmail address, the Financial Times reports.
Later in the week – following a break because of the snowstorm that threatened New York City on Tuesday – the jury heard evidence that agents found a treasure trove of more than 144,000 Bitcoins on Ulbricht's computer, an amount worth approximately $16m–$18m at the time of his arrest.
They also heard from Michael Duch, a convicted drug offender who testified that he sold as much as $60,000 worth heroin per month on Silk Road because the site offered "a perceived level of safety and anonymity."
Another government witness testified on Thursday that Ulbricht allegedly tried to arrange the contract killing of a Silk Road user who went by the alias "FriendlyChemist" because Ulbricht believed the man was preparing to give information about Silk Road to police.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Brian Shaw, a tech who helped the government decipher the information recovered from Silk Road servers, testified that in one message Ulbricht allegedly wrote, "In my eyes, FriendlyChemist is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was executed."
The government has previously alleged that Ulbricht tried to arrange as many as six separate murders-for-hire. Nobody actually died, however, because the "contract killers" Ulbricht allegedly hired were actually undercover agents.
Ulbricht's lawyers had earlier sought to block prosecutors from introducing evidence about the alleged murder-for-hire plots during the New York trial, saying it was "irrelevant" to the drugs trafficking, money laundering, and conspiracy offenses with which he is charged.
But Judge Katherine Forrest disagreed, saying the murder-for-hire evidence was admissible to establish that Ulbricht was "Dread Pirate Roberts," the alias used by the person who publicly claimed to own and operate the Silk Road site.
Defense to begin next week
Last week, Judge Forrest also declared much of the evidence presented by Ulbricht's attorney Joshua Dratel inadmissible after the fact because it was mainly composed of hearsay and supposition by government witnesses – a move that caused Dratel to complain that his defense strategy had been "completely eviscerated."
Once the prosecution has rested, however, Dratel is expected to argue that while Ulbricht admittedly created Silk Road, he later handed control of it to another party who was the real Dread Pirate Roberts.
Dratel has previously suggested that the real mastermind behind the site was Mt Gox founder Mark Karpeles, a charge that Karpeles denies. But whoever ran the site, Dratel is expected to argue that Ulbricht was no more than its "landlord" and therefore is not responsible for his "tenants'" criminal actions.
"Analogously, no landlord has been prosecuted under the federal controlled substances statutes for renting an apartment to a known drug seller," Dratel observed in a pre-trial motion.
Dratel may also attempt to argue that Ulbricht can't be found guilty of money laundering because the Bitcoin digital currency in which Silk Road traded is not actual money – a line of argument that the court has viewed with skepticism in the past.
Dratel is expected to begin presenting the meat of his defense next week. Shaw is the last of four witnesses the government is expected to call in the trial, and his testimony will continue on Monday, after which Dratel will be able to call his own witnesses. ®