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Simple Google search outed alleged Silk Road founder

Joab Jackson | Jan. 27, 2015
It was a simple Web search that led to the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, accused mastermind of the Silk Road underground online marketplace, a U.S. Internal Revenue Service special agent testified Monday in a Manhattan federal courtroom

A spreadsheet of Silk Road expenses and a journal, both found on the laptop, also more firmly connected Ulbricht to Silk Road, according to prosecutors.

In a journal, the user wrote about renting a cabin near Bastrop Texas in 2010 to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms. A set of emails in Ulbricht's account details an exchange in 2010 about renting a property in Bastrop that was advertised on the Craigslist classifieds website.

Other emails show receipts from Amazon for purchasing equipment that could be used for growing mushrooms, such as a humidifier and a filter. The cost of these items closely match the costs, and times purchased, recorded in the Silk Road spreadsheet found on the laptop.

The email account even has a receipt documenting the purchase of a new laptop from Amazon in May 2012. The purchased computer was the same model--Samsung 700Z--that Ulbricht had at the time of his arrest.

Alford found additional damning evidence by comparing the contents of the laptop with Ulbricht's Facebook account. On the social networking site, Ulbricht posted photos from a January 2012 vacation trip to Thailand. In chat logs found on the machine, the user also boasted of visiting Thailand in that time period.

Email appeared to solve another mystery. When Ulbricht was caught, he was logged into his laptop with the user name of Frosty, a user name not found on Silk Road. Alford showed an email from an old friend of Ulbricht's which started with the greeting "Rossy Frosty."

Alford's testimony will continue on Wednesday, when he is expected to present additional details that tie Ulbricht to Silk Road.

Alford will also be cross examined by Ulbricht's defense attorney, Joshua Dratel.

To date, Dratel has been aggressively working to convince the jury that just because Ulbricht used the computer on which all of these documents and files were found, that doesn't mean he necessarily created them. The correlation with the material on the Gmail account will make his task more difficult.

Ulbricht was 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 pled not guilty to all charges.

The case is being overseen by District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York.


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