Español The trial of internet entrepreneur and Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht began on Tuesday, January 13, in New York. The government has accused Ulbricht of making millions of dollars off the black-market website, where users bought and sold drugs, guns, and other illegal products.
Prosecutors claim Ulbricht “operated like a drug lord,” generating over US$18 million in bitcoin commissions. They say he operated a criminal enterprise and conspired to commit narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking, all under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts.”
“[Ulbricht] set the rules that dealers had to follow,” said prosecutor Timothy Howard. He claims Ulbricht was “at the center of each of these drug deals” and took a 10-12 percent cut from each exchange.
Ulbricht’s defense attorney, Joshua Dratel, argues the state has the wrong man. “He was the perfect fall guy for the true owners of the website.” On Tuesday, Ulbricht admitted for the first time, through his attorney, that he “did invent the Silk Road” in 2011 as an “economic experiment,” but handed over the reigns of the website early on.
“The real [Dread Pirate Roberts] is out there,” Dratel said in court. Ulbricht pled not guilty to the charges filed against him. If found guilty, he faces a potential life sentence in jail.
The Silk Road first appeared online as a forum that developed into an online marketplace as a “hidden service” on the Tor network in January 2011. The FBI initially shut down the site in October 2013, after arresting Ulbricht in a public library in San Francisco. Agents seized more than 29,000 bitcoins from Ulbricht’s laptop, which US marshals later sold for $17 million.
Family, friends, and supporters of Ross Ulbricht have set up a website called FreeRoss.org to raise awareness of the case and collect donations for Ulbricht’s defense. Activist Julia Tourianksi has urged supporters to protest the trial. “If Ross is convicted, the internet will become a place of fear and we will be at the whim of state power,” she said.