Day 8 of Ulbricht Silk Road Trial: Former Silk Road Vendor Testifies

Day 8 started with the testimony of Alex Miller, the vice president of operations at Stack Exchange, a question and answer website.  His testimony was centered around Stack Overflow, a part of Stack Exchange dedicated specifically to questions and answers relating to web development.  Miller testified to Ross Ulbricht registering to Stack Exchange through his Facebook account to ask questions about connecting to a hidden service using php.  He also stated that Ulbricht changed his username and E-mail address associated with the Stack Exchange account a minute before posting the question.

The defense brought up questions about Open ID, the web service Stack Exchange uses that allows a single account to sign into multiple websites without needing to create new passwords.  From here the defense laid out a case for the possibility that someone may have stolen Ulbricht’s Facebook password and logged into Stack Exchange to ask the question/change the username and E-mail.  Miller stated that there was no way of knowing for sure who was actually using the account associated with Ross Ulbricht.

The prosecution then called special agent Gary Alford from the Internal Revenue Service.  Alford used evidence from Ulbricht’s computer (mainly the tor chat logs) and compared them to Ulbricht’s Google E-mails, showing correlations between the two.  Alford showed a log chat between Dread Pirate Roberts and VJ/Simone where he discussed changing his citizenship to Dominica.  Alford then showed E-mails from Ross Ulbricht’s google account, from around the same time, asking friends to write character testimonies for his application to become a Dominican citizen.  There were various other correlations between DPR chats and Ulbricht E-mails including mentioning that he had poison oak, that he was sick, and that he was dating a girl named Emilia.  From there, Alford showed a spreadsheet from Ulbricht’s computer labeled “servers”.  On this spreadsheet there was an IP address labeled “my real ID” which was the same IP address Google logged for Ross Ulbricht’s account.

The defense had an extremely hard time getting through this witness.  Dratel tried focussing his cross examination on Ulbricht’s Linkedin page, FinCen records (a collection and analyses of financial transactions), and other open source research Alford conducted.  Since none of his questions fell into the scope of Alford’s direct testimony, none of them were allowed.  As a result, Dratel’s questioning lacked any real observable direction.  Dratel then shifted his questioning toward inter agency competition due to pressure put on government agencies to arrest someone for running the site, stemming from a public letter from Senator Chuck Schumer to do so.  This line of questioning, too, was ruled as not being within the scope of Alford’s direct.  The judge stated that he could recall Alford to ask him relevant questions, but for now, he had to stay within the scope.  It is not clear whether or not he will call Alford back as a defense witness.

The next witness was Dylan Critten from Homeland Security.  Critten testified to intercepting an envelope containing 9 fake driver’s licenses from 6 states and 3 countries.  All of the forged IDs used different names, but had Ross Ulbricht’s picture on them.  Critten went to the address the envelope was addressed to which was Ross Ulbricht’s house.  Ulbricht was not charged with a crime or forced to speak with him but spoke to him voluntarily as part of a separate investigation regarding the forged documents.  Critten was not involved in any capacity with the Silk Road investigation.

The next witness was Michael Duch, a former heroin addict and Silk Road vendor who sold approximately 3.18 kilograms of heroin on Silk Road in a six month time frame.  Duch is currently incarcerated awaiting sentencing for selling heroin on Silk Road.  He faces 5 to 40 years in prison for selling heroin but due to his prior felony convictions of robbery, assault, and drug possession, he could face 20 years to life in prison.  His deal with the government could result in time served (about a year and a half).  While Duch was not a witness to any connection between Ross Ulbricht and Dread Pirate Roberts, he was a witness to the inner workings of the Silk Road marketplace.  The prosecution focused their investigation on Duch’s transition from a buyer of prescription pain killers on Silk Road to a well established heroin vendor on Silk Road and his interactions with buyers.  He explained that in order to fund his $2,000-$3,500 a week heroin habit, he decided to start selling heroin on Silk Road.  Duch testified to receiving desperate messages from buyers everyday asking when their heroin would arrive because they were going through painful withdrawals.  The only purpose of this part of the testimony was to paint a picture to the jury of what a predatory enterprise Silk Road was, which was presented relatively well.

Dratel did not get to finish his cross examination of Duch today, but did a great job in the little time he did have.  Dratel basically reiterated every detail of the agreement Duch signed with the government showing how beneficial his cooperation with the government is to his near and distant future.  Dratel further discredited him as a witness by mentioning his prior convictions for assaulting his girlfriend with a cell phone and robbing his father.  Dratel also went into detail on his drug abuse stating that “he was high all the time”.  The day ended with Duch not being able to recall the details of his agreement with the government, further painting the picture of an unreliable drug addict motivated by self interest.

The cross examination of Duch and the rest of the trial will resume tomorrow.

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