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Ulbricht found guilty of all charges in Silk Road case

Joab Jackson | Feb. 5, 2015
The prosecution based its case largely on digital evidence.

Prosecutors also called to the stand a friend of Ulbricht's, Richard Bates, who described how he helped Ulbricht get Silk Road running early in 2011.

To prove Ulbricht remained active with the site through 2012 and 2013, prosecutors relied almost entirely on digital evidence. Over the course of three weeks, prosecutors showed multiple instances of how evidence found on Silk Road servers overlapped with information on Ulbricht's laptop and personal accounts, including Gmail and Facebook. The laptop also contained thousands of pages of chat logs, in which Dread Pirate Roberts communicated with other site administrators.

Perhaps most damning was the $18 million in bitcoin found on Ulbricht's laptop when he was arrested. The defense argued that those bitcoins were investment income unrelated to the Silk Road, but using the bitcoin blockchain, which records all transactions, prosecutors were able to trace at least $13 million of those coins back to the Silk Road.

Also helping the prosecutors' case was that, with conspiracy charges, the defendant didn't need to have been involved with the illegal operation for the entire time. Merely being involved at some point was enough to convict, the prosecutors reminded the jury during closing remarks.

Early in the trial, Dratel charged that Mark Karpeles, operator of the failed Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange, may have had a major hand in Silk Road's operations. But Karpeles denied any involvement and Judge Forrest ordered the jury to disregard the claim.

The Silk Road case was an important one for federal prosecutors, being "probably one of the most high profile cyber-cases that has been brought by the government," said Skinner, the former prosecutor. His law firm was not involved with the case against Ulbricht.

"We have data breaches happening all the time and there is a lot of fear that the government won't be able to find or hold these people accountable," he said. The Silk Road prosecutors "have shown that in this instance that they could do so."

Ulbricht hasn't seen his last days on court. He must still answer charges in Maryland of money laundering and conspiracy to commit murder, also related to his time running Silk Road. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Ulbricht attempted to have a potential informant silenced, but the hit man he allegedly approached turned out to be a DEA agent.

At the court in Manhattan, prosecutors presented chat logs that showed how Dread Pirate Roberts had commissioned the assassinations of five other individuals who threatened the Silk Road's operations. He was not charged with murder conspiracy in this case however, because the intended targets were never proved to have existed, and there were no murders that fit the description of the killings.

 

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