Ross Ulbricht, the 30-year-old Texan accused of running the infamous online drugs marketplace Silk Road has admitted to creating the website, the Daily Dot reports — but he claims he’s just a “fall guy” for the real mastermind behind the service.
The Silk Road was an online marketplace launched in 2011 that allowed users to buy drugs and other products with virtual currency Bitcoin through the online anonymising service Tor. Before its closure and Ulbricht’s arrest in October 2013, it became infamous as the one of the world’s largest online drugs marketplaces.
Ulbricht’s trial began on Tuesday, and he faces charges ranging from computer hacking and drug trafficking to criminal enterprise and money laundering.
Defence attorney Joshua Dratel has — for the first time — acknowledged that his client created the Silk Road, but argues that it was an “economic experiment” that Ulbricht gave up within months due to “stress,” handing it off to another individual. The administrator of Silk Road went by the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts, but Dratel alleges Ulbricht has never used this alias. “Ross is not a drug dealer. Ross is not a kingpin. Ross in not involved in a conspiracy.”
Interesting, the claim matches up with a Forbes interview with Dread Pirate Roberts in 2013. The administrator told Andy Greenberg that he “didn’t start the Silk Road, my predecessor did.” (The FBI has told Greenberg that this was simply Ulbricht lying.)
According to Dratel, “Ross was the perfect fall guy.”
The prosecution disputes this, claiming that Ulbricht is “like any other drug boss,” according to the Daily Dot. He was arrested in a San Francisco library, allegedly with Silk Road open on his computer, and talking to an undercover agent who went by the alias cirrus. The defence claims Ulbricht had been lured there that day “to take the fall” for the true operators of Silk Road, reports The Register.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the courtroom in support of the defendant, urging potential jurors to find Ulbricht innocent on moral grounds — a practice known as “jury nullification.”
The prosecution also allege Ulbricht kept a logbook of his activity on the Silk Road, WIRED reports, and that he bragged to a friend about running the site. “We will pull back the curtain on this dark and secret world,” Assistant US attorney Timothy Howard said. “Behind it are Ulbricht and his laptop.”
The trial is expected to run for the next four to six weeks.
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