Trials & Litigation

Ulbricht was the fall guy in Silk Road's illicit $1.2B business, defense tells jury

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Ross William Ulbricht founded the anonymous Silk Road website.

But that doesn’t mean the 30-year-old was responsible for a claimed $1.2 billion in illicit sales facilitated by the online black-market bazaar during a period of a little more than two years, his lawyer told jurors Tuesday during opening arguments in federal court in Manhattan, Buyers and sellers around the world could keep their drug transactions secret by paying in virtual currency, Wired reports.

Ulbricht, who could face life in prison if he is convicted in the drug-trafficking and conspiracy case, had stepped aside from the website early on and was set up by the Silk Road’s real operators when they sensed the feds were closing in, contended attorney Joshua Dratel.

“After a few months, he found it too stressful for him, and he handed it over to others,” Dratel said of Ulbricht, referring to the early days of the Silk Road operation. “At the end, he was lured back by those operators to … take the fall for the people running the website.”

The government says Ulbricht—who was known as Dread Pirate Roberts and was arrested in 2013 at a San Francisco public library where he had been surfing the site—was in fact the mastermind. Prosecutors say evidence on his laptop shows that Ulbricht even attempted, unsuccessfully, to arrange contract hits on several individuals, according to Bloomberg and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Howard pointed in his opening to the $18 million Ulbricht allegedly made from Silk Road sales that were “as quick and easy as ordinary online shopping,” the Associated Press reports.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “‘Silk Road’ chief charged in drug case; feds say site did $1.2B in illegal Bitcoin-funded business”

Forbes: “Defense Attorney: Ross Ulbricht Created The Silk Road, But A Different Dread Pirate Roberts Committed The Crimes”

Hit & Run (Reason.com): “Why the Prosecution of Silk Road Creator Ross Ulbricht is ‘The Most Important Trial in America’ “

Wired (opinion): “Why the Silk Road Trial Matters”

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