Ulbricht Silk Road Trial Day 11: Closing Arguments

The defense put on an incredibly short case consisting of several character witnesses and testimony from a private investigator from One World Research.  The defense team wanted to bring a computer and bitcoin expert to testify, but waited to long to do so.  The defense called several of Ulbricht’s friends from childhood.  Every witness was asked the same question regarding Ulbricht’s reputation in the community for being a peaceful non-violent person.  Presumably, this was an attempt to show that Ulbricht would not have been involved in a murder for hire scheme and therefore could not have been Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR).  All of these witnesses testified to his reputation for being a peaceful and non-violent person.

The defense then called Christopher Kincaid to the stand.  Kincaid rented a room in his house to Ulbricht at the time of his arrest.  Despite using a fake name to rent a room in the last house he was living in, the one that Department of Homeland Security questioned Ulbricht at, Kincaid testified that he knew the defendant by his real name.  Kincaid also testified to the friendship that Ross had with him and his wife, going over various activities and things they did together while Ulbricht lived there.

Bridgette Prince conducted a private investigation of the copy the government made of Ulbricht’s laptop.  She reviewed a file entitled “market rewrite” as well as Ulbricht’s Google E-mail account.  After testifying to reviewing Ulbricht’s E-mails, there was a quick sidebar meeting between the defense, prosecution, and Judge Forrest.  It was not explained what was discussed, but the defense unexpectedly decided not to question Prince any further.

Before closing his case, Dratel presented a computer file entitled “counter-intelligence file” found on Ulbricht’s computer.  The file showed information of an ongoing government investigation of the Silk Road bitcoin servers, main servers, forum, marketplace, and the administrators that DPR bought in the spring of 2013.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Serrin Turner started his closing by stating to the jury that the evidence is overwhelming and undisputed that Ulbricht ran Silk Road from 2010 until the day he was arrested.  After reviewing much of the evidence the government has presented throughout the trial and establishing that Ulbricht is DPR, Turner listed the charges against Ross Ulbricht and explained why he was guilty of them.

The first three charges are for distributing drugs, distributing drugs over the internet, and conspiring to sell drugs.  Turner referred to a message sent by DPR to a vendor who had equated the Silk Road commissions to a tax.  DPR’s response to the message was “it would only be a tax if I was taking money from a transaction I was not involved in”.  Turner also referred to a post that DPR wrote to all of the users on the Silk Road, “I consider Silk Road not as a bureaucracy but as your business partner”.

The fourth charge against Ulbricht is for operating a continuing criminal enterprise.  The three components of this charge include a series of three or more crimes that were committed, oversaw five or more people as part of the operations, and the operation must have yielded a substantial profit.  Turner explained that with around 1.5 million illegal transactions, over 3,000 vendors that he oversaw, and the $13.5 million made in commissions, Ulbricht is guilty of operating a continuing criminal enterprise.

The fifth and sixth charges were for aiding and abetting computer hacking and aiding and abetting in trafficking fraudulent identification.  Turner explained that by creating the categories for the hacking and forgeries listings, he was involved in the commission of both crimes.

The last charge was conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Turner explained that Ulbricht took actions to create anonymity with bitcoin transactions by utilizing a tumbler system and allowed direct bitcoin for cash transactions.  This was done specifically to help drug dealers transfer and cash out their profits safely.

Turner ended his closing statement by showing the desperate messages from heroin addicts to Michael Duch explaining how much they needed their heroin and how horrible their withdrawal symptoms were.  Turner stated that the Silk Road market made it easier for dealers to prey on addicts and feed the addictions of addicts.

Dratel stated in his closing that there is no direct or credible evidence linking Ulbricht to DPR and that Ulbricht started the site but later sold it before DPR took control over it.  Dratel made the argument that DPR was very careful and security oriented whereas Ulbricht was not.  He mentions how that when Homeland Security came to his house, Ulbricht volunteered to speak with them, willingly offered them his contact information, and even told them about the Silk Road website.  After speaking to homeland security, Ulbricht made no attempt to cash out any bitcoins, leave the country, or act in any way that would suggest that he was worried about the authorities investigating him.  He did use a fake name to rent a room in that house but after he spoke with Homeland Security, he rented a different room using his real name, not something someone who is worried about being investigated would do.  Nor did he behave like someone who has a counter intelligence file and knew he was being investigated.

Dratel explained how Richard Bates testified to Ulbricht looking stressed out over running the site and that Ulbricht later told him that he had sold Silk Road in the fall of 2011. This is supported by the evidence that the silkroad.org site server was not renewed and was instead transferred to someone in China.

The statements from there went into the defense’s theory of a plot to link Ulbricht to DPR.  This, according to Dratel, started sometime after May of 2013 when the counter intelligence file was created.  It is his argument that when the file was made, the real DPR was worried about the implications of the investigation and started planning a scheme to setup Ulbricht as his fall guy.   Dratel says that this plan included hacking his google E-mail account and researching his Facebook page in order to extract personal information from him.  From there, the real DPR altered his real messages from his chat log so that they would include subtle personal details about Ulbricht.  The real DPR then hacked into Ulbricht’s computer, possibly through bit torrent, and began the process of downloading the evidence into Ulbricht’s computer including the fake journal entries, the fabricated asset valuation spreadsheet, the altered tor chats, the server lists, access to the servers, and the bitcoin wallet.  Since the files are so small, Ulbricht never noticed them being downloaded to his computer.

The defense agrees that DPR would resort to violence and was willing to have people killed to protect his site only they argue that the character witness testimonies show that Ross Ulbricht is a non-violent and peaceful person.  Since Ross Ulbricht would not hurt, let alone kill anyone, he cannot be DPR.

Dratel finished by telling the jury that the evidence against Ulbricht is so easily manipulated and unreliable.  He tells them that they must distinguish between evidence from the internet and evidence from ‘real life’.  Bates is a ‘real life’ witness with real evidence to Ulbricht selling the site, Ulbricht’s relaxed behavior while DPR knows that he is under investigation is ‘real life’ indication that he was not DPR, and the testimony of the character witnesses to his non-violent nature is ‘real life’ evidence.

Prosecutor Timothy Howard began his rebuttal by stating that the idea that Ulbricht is the victim of a grand conspiracy is “absolutely ridiculous.”  Ulbricht was caught red handed on his laptop connected to the Silk Road server while in the middle of a chat, logged in as DPR, with an undercover agent.

Ross Ulbricht did not worry about any investigation because he thought that he was safe.  Ulricht thought that because he had an encrypted computer and operated on the tor network, he could never be caught.  The prosecution shows a chat log where DPR says the only way that the authorities could catch you is if they come at you from behind while you are on your computer.  This is exactly how he was caught by the F.B.I.

Howard told the jury that the idea that Ulbricht sold the site was the continuation of a lie that he told to those who knew he ran the site such as Richard Bates.  A tor chat from Ulbrcht’s laptop confirmed this.  In a chat with VJ, he is asked if anyone in real life knows that he runs the site. He answered yes but that he told them that he sold it.  VJ tells him that is good but he needs to change his username on the site to make it look like it is under new management to make the lie more believable.  He suggests the name Dread Pirate Roberts.

The files on the computer were not randomly placed but neatly organized and were not just found on the laptop.  All of the files up to September 23, 2013 were also found on an encrypted thumb drive next to the bed in Ulbricht’s bedroom.  Howard then states to the jury that It is farfetched to believe the mysterious hacker broke into his house and planted the flash drive, too.

Howard ended his rebuttal by stating that it was clear from the journals, chats, and attitude of Ulbricht that he thought he was smarter than everyone.  He concocted this scheme in order to fool his friends and the authorities into believing that he was not running the Silk Road.  Howard then turned to the jury and said, “and he’s trying to fool you, too. Don’t let him.”

With that the trial ended.  The jury will begin deliberating tomorrow.


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