Day one of Ross Ulbricht’s trial was more dramatic than anticipated, with supporters protesting outside the courthouse and some surprising revelations inside.
After some housekeeping and the first stage of jury selection, the prosecution presented. It portrayed Ulbricht as “the kingpin” of the “criminal empire” Silk Road. He amassed a sizeable fortune of bitcoins, charging 10 to 12 percent on sales. He was willing to go to great lengths to protect his enterprise and the identity of his dealers, including murder-for-hire. Early on when the site had no listings, Ulbricht himself cultivated hallucinogenic mushrooms for sale.
Timothy Howard described how they literally caught Ulbricht red-handed. At a library in San Francisco, Ulbricht was chatting online with whom he thought was one of his employees but in fact turned out to be an undercover agent. “As the defendant typed away, he had no idea agents in the public library were watching his every move,” Howard said. They seized Ulbricht in the act, with his laptop open to a “mastermind” page to manage Silk Road.
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Ulbricht’s defense lawyer surprised the courtroom by acknowledging that, indeed, his client had created Silk Road. But it was intended “as a free-wheeling, free market site that could sell anything, except for a couple items that were harmful. It was an economic experiment.”
More importantly, he was not the infamous “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR). After creating the site, he handed it off to others, who eventually lured him back. Alerted that they were under investigation, they jumped ship and brought Ross, the perfect “fall guy,” back in. The real DPR has meticulously kept his identity confidential, he said.
He argued that if Ross was the real DPR, he wouldn’t have been at a public library with BitTorrent open on his personal computer.