Trials & Litigation

Was 'Dread Pirate Roberts' multiple people? Federal judge limits defense in $200M Silk Road case

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A federal judge has limited efforts by defense counsel for the alleged ringleader of the online Silk Road black-market bazaar to point the finger at others as the case is being tried.

Attorney Joshua Dratel has been attempting to get admissions from government witnesses to support his argument that defendant Ross William Ulbricht merely founded the anonymous website said to be responsible for nearly $200 million dollars in drug sales. Then Ulbricht handed it over to others, Dratel says, and was set up to take the fall when they sensed the feds were closing in.

The attorney has pursued a line of questioning intended to establish that multiple individuals were known as the “Dread Pirate Roberts” in charge of the Silk Road site, reports the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.).

The name “Dread Pirate Roberts” originated from the book The Princess Bride, which was written by William Goldman and made into a film in 1987. In the plot of The Princess Bride, it is explained that “Dread Pirate Roberts” was a pseudonym assumed by several pirates, each of whom inherited the name from his predecessor and then pretended to be the same man.

However, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled on Tuesday that Dratel may only question witnesses about their direct knowledge and cannot ask if they “believed” or “suspected” someone else was in charge of Silk Road. That will likely limit the extent to which defense counsel can pursue their claim that multiple individuals shared the Dread Pirate Roberts moniker, the article says.

Forrest also granted a government motion to strike testimony by a Department of Homeland Security agent who said he thought Dread Pirate Roberts was someone other than Ulbricht, agreeing that this was inadmissible hearsay, reports Courthouse News.

Dratel said after the judge’s ruling that he is having trouble proceeding, because prosecutors eviscerated his intended line of questioning. He unsuccessfully asked the judge for time to regroup before moving forward with questioning in the Manhattan case.

Initially, federal prosecutors claimed that the Silk Road site had racked up $1.2 billion in sales throughout the time it operated. However, they have since cut that figure, and now say the site was responsible for some $200 million in illicit sales, reports Reuters. Drug sales allegedly accounted for 95 percent of that amount.

Ulbricht, 30, faces seven charges, including computer hacking, drug-trafficking conspiracy and money-laundering.

Related coverage: “Ulbricht was the fall guy in Silk Road’s illicit $1.2B business, defense tells judge”

Law & Disorder (Ars Technica): “Researcher links 20 percent of Ulbricht’s bitcoins to Silk Road accounts”

Wired: “Prosecutors Won’t Let a Jury See My Interview With Silk Road’s Dread Pirate Roberts”

Updated at 1:55 p.m. to add context for the name “Dread Pirate Roberts.”

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