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Prosecution: Silk Road founder nabbed In flagrante delicto

Joab Jackson | Jan. 16, 2015
However, Ross Ulbritch's defense attorneys cast doubt on the prosecution's allegations.

Dratel also potentially laid to waste any notion that one person was behind all the PGP-signed messages from "Dread Pirate Roberts." He pointed out that anyone who had a copy of the "Dread Pirate Roberts" private PGP key could have signed those messages. It would be like holding a key to a locked office cabinet, Dratel said: Anyone could gain entrance if they had a copy of the key. He also got DerYeghiayan to admit that at least some of the forum messages signed by "Dread Pirate Roberts" could not be verified through a PGP check, in effect meaning they could have been posted by anyone.

Dratel also worked to cast doubt that Silk Road was as widely trafficked as prosecutors alleged.

The site first came to DerYeghiayan's attention in October 2011 when, working as a customs inspector for international mail coming into Chicago O'Hare International Airport, he had noticed a surge of illegal ecstasy tablets being mailed in from other countries, he testified. Then, Silk Road had recently gotten a lot of press attention from the likes of Gawker and National Public Radio, and so was a natural suspect for the source of this traffic.

Dratel had pointed out, however, that the mail coming in didn't have any sort of identification that would directly tie it to Silk Road. It was entirely possible that the drugs could have arrived from other services, or perhaps they were being procured without the aid of an Internet exchange. Or the buyer and seller might have met on Silk Road, but conducted business privately.

Dratel tried to cast doubt that Ulbricht was a mastermind of sorts. Many of Silk Road's most sophisticated features, such as the "tumbler" service that obscured customer Bitcoin transactions, were implemented in 2012, he said, a time prosecutors have no direct proof that Ulbricht was involved with Silk Road. The defense has maintained from the start of the trial that Ulbricht started Silk Road, handed it off to others, and then was lured back in just prior to the bust of October 2013.

Even the crumpled up sheets of paper found at Ulbricht's home were used to contradict the prosecutor's take on events. What sort of sophisticated mastermind of billion dollar illegal online marketplace would be foolish enough to leave evidence on paper, sitting in a trash can? Dratel asked rhetorically.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York is overseeing the case.


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