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Silk Road prosecutors rest their case, cite 'mountain' of digital evidence

Joab Jackson | Feb. 4, 2015
The prosecution in the Silk Road case implored the jury to "connect the dots".

Federal prosecutors made their closing arguments Tuesday in their case against Ross Ulbricht, the accused mastermind behind the notorious Silk Road underground marketplace for drugs and other unlawful goods, by asking the jury to connect the dots among the "mountain" of digital evidence.

"The evidence is overwhelming that Ross Ulbricht started Silk Road, and kept it running until his arrest," the lead prosecutor, US Justice Department Attorney Serrin Turner, told the jury. He reminded them of the "mountain of evidence" presented by prosecutors that included Ulbricht's Gmail and Facebook accounts, as well as thousands of pages of chat logs and a journal found on the laptop that Ulbricht was using during the time of his arrest.

Federal prosecutors had only one witness who directly tied Ulbricht to Silk Road, Richard Bates, a friend who helped Ulbricht during early days of the site with some technical details. So the case was made largely on digital evidence. Turner carefully walked the jury through multiple examples where Silk Road administrative records correlated closely with digital evidence tied to Ulbricht, and the computer he was using during his arrest.

"There are no little elves who put all this evidence on his computer. Use your common sense, ladies and gentlemen," Turner implored the jury.

Prosecutors must convince the jury that Ulbricht had a hand in the operation of the site through at least a portion of its lifetime -- January 2011 until October 2013 -- a challenging task given that the site was managed largely through a pseudo-anonymous administrative account, under the name Dread Pirate Roberts.

The prosecution's case seeks to prove that Ulbricht operated Silk Road using that account. Ulbricht is charged with narcotics conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and money laundering. The narcotics and criminal enterprise charges carry maximum penalties of life in prison. Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Ulbricht's defense lawyer, Joshua Dratel, argues that Ulbricht handed off the site to other operators shortly after he started it in 2011, and that he rejoined immediately prior to his arrest, lured back in by the new operators to serve as a fall guy.

Turner pointed that none of digital evidence, collected both from Ulbricht's laptop and the Silk Road servers, indicates that there ever was a handoff between Ulbricht and another party. Moreover, the laptop Ulbricht was using during his arrest contained a rich history -- as found in server logs, bookkeeping spreadsheets and a journal -- of how Silk Road came to be.

Turner reiterated those points where the Silk Road records closely correlated with Ulbricht's personal records. No single piece of evidence conclusively proves Ulbricht was Dread Pirate Roberts, but if added up, the collective evidence offers strong proof that the two were one and the same, Turner argued.

 

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