A college friend of Ross Ulbricht, Richard Bates, says he provided programming help for Silk Road.
Visibly uncomfortable on the stand, Bates indicated that he turned against Ulbricht as part of a deal with authorities to pardon his roles in Silk Road.
Originally, he was in the dark as to the nature of the project he was working on. Ulbricht eventually told him that he was “working on a website where people can buy drugs” after Bates threatened to stop offering his assistance. Bates was both “shocked” and “intrigued” by the site. He made his own drug purchases and continued offering his services even after becoming aware of the site’s nature.
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The two also worked on a project to create a bitcoin exchange which would help launder money.
Bates, who currently works for eBay, got a visit from law enforcement agents shortly after Ulbricht’s arrest. Bates says he initially lied and denied any connection with Ulbricht or the site, but later shared the story after agents promised not to prosecute him for his work on the site.
His testimony was brought forth as a cooperating witness for the government. It has been interpreted by some as highly incriminating of Ulbricht in the case. However, Bates also said that in 2011, Ulbricht couldn’t shut down the site because he sold it to someone else. This reinforces the defense’s position that although Ulbricht did create the site, he was the not the true ‘kingpin’, “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR). Indeed, Ulbricht’s attorney Joshua Dratel highlighted this point when cross-examining Bates.