The highest profile criminal case in Bitcoin to date is set to go to trial. The jury selection in USA vs Ross William Ulbricht will take place tomorrow, and the trial is expected to last for six weeks. The alleged mastermind of the shuttered Silk Road marketplace, “Dread Pirate Roberts” potentially faces life in prison.
Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty and has not conceded to accusations of his role in Silk Road. Prosecutors believe they have sufficient evidence linking him. Ulbricht apparently espouses strong libertarian, anti-government positions. In his LinkedIn profile, he says that his “goals have shifted” after working in physics-related research for several years. He wants to use economic theory to “to abolish the use of coercion and agression [sic] amongst mankind”:
“Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”
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Prosecutors say this “economic simulation” is really Silk Road, which generated $1.2 billion worth of sales and earned him 144,336 bitcoins in commissions.
One of the more contentious aspects of the trial will be the evoking of murder-for-hire allegations, for which Ulbricht is charged in a separate case. Although the case at hand does not include these charges, prosecutors aim to use them as evidence that he conspired to protect a criminal enterprise. Judge Katherine Forrest has indicated that she will allow prosecutors to present such evidence.
We will also see if the prosecutors’ bid to block out “political defences” is successful. They fear that such proceedings may sway juror feelings in favour of Ulbricht, even if they factually believe that he is guilty according to the letter of the law.