Feb 7 2014, 12:22pm CST | by Forbes
Last November, Ross Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel told reporters only hours after first meeting his client that he planned to show that Ulbricht is not the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who created the Silk Road anonymous drug site. It seems he wasn’t bluffing.
On Friday, Ulbricht pleaded “not guilty” in a Manhattan court to all charges that he created and managed the Silk Road, the world’s most popular anonymous, Bitcoin-based digital black market for drugs. Those charges, which were formally levied against Ulbricht on Tuesday, claim that he conspired to traffic in narcotics, hack computers, and launder money, as well as that he engaged in a “continuing criminal enterprise,” a charge sometimes called the “kingpin statute,” often aimed at mafia and cartel bosses.
The not-guilty pleas counter reports that Ulbricht might be coming to a deal with prosecutors to cooperate in taking down his former alleged Silk Road employees or other figures in the so-called “dark web” drug industry in exchange for a shorter sentence. Those rumors were fueled in part by the arrest of three more alleged employees of the Silk Road arrested in December . Bitcoin Foundation vice chairman Charlie Shrem and another man were also charged last month with money laundering related to Silk Road .
In the arraignment, prosecutors said that they have between eight and ten terabytes of evidence that they plan to share with the defense and potentially use in Ulbricht’s trial, which is now scheduled for four to six weeks starting in early November. In prosecutors’ initial criminal complaint against Ulbricht and a bail hearing last December, the government referred to evidence it’s collected that a record of all data on the Silk Road’s servers, as well as Ulbricht’s own laptop, which they said stored a logbook, a journal and other personal records from his time building and running the marketplace.
The defense will be given several months to review that material, and Ulbricht himself will be given access to a laptop at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center to review the material.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Dratel wouldn’t comment on his strategy for Ulbricht’s defense. But he’s hinted that he may attack law enforcement’s methods in obtaining that evidence, seeking to find clues that it was tainted by illegal or improper surveillance techniques. In courthouse comments in November, he noted press reports that the NSA and DEA have in some cases colluded to hide the trail of surveillance that led to drug arrests, and suggested that the NSA might have been involved in cracking the security protections used by the Silk Road including Bitcoin and the anonymity software Tor. “When you’re trying to compromise Tor or any anonymous process like Bitcoin, you’re going to be running into the NSA,” Dratel said at the time . “It’s worth exploring.”
Since Ulbricht’s last court appearance, he filed a claim on around 29,000 bitcoins which the government seized from his laptop, part of a collection of around 174,000 bitcoins worth more than $130 million seized from Ulbricht and the Silk Road’s servers. Asked how Ulbricht can claim that the 29,000 bitcoins are his while also arguing that he’s not guilty of running the Silk Road, Dratel pointed out that “It’s not illegal to have bitcoins.”
“We’ll look back on this five years from now and say ‘what was all this sinister connotations around Bitcoin,’” Ulbricht added.
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