Ross Ulbricht's Defense In Silk Road Trial: Some Other Guy Did It, I'm Just The Fall Guy

from the good-luck-with-that dept

On Tuesday, the trial for Ross Ulbricht, the guy accused of being the "Dread Pirate Roberts" behind Silk Road (1.0) began, and apparently the defense's legal strategy is to claim some other guy was the real DPR, and Ulbricht was just the fall guy. According to Andy Greenberg:
In his opening statement in a Manhattan courtroom, defense attorney Joshua Dratel began with a surprising admission: that his client Ross Ulbricht was in fact the founder of the Silk Road.

But Dratel went on to explain that the site was meant merely to be a kind of “economic experiment” that Ulbricht only controlled for a brief time. The eventual adoptive owners of the Silk Road, Dratel claimed, would later trick Ulbricht into serving as the “fall guy” when they sensed an impending law enforcement crackdown.

“After a few months, he found it too stressful for him, and he handed it over to others,” Dratel told the jury, describing the Silk Road’s early days. “At the end, he was lured back by those operators to…take the fall for the people running the website.”
That's.... a different argument than has been suggested in the past. It also seems like it would require a bit more evidence. And that's going to be tough. The admission that he created the Silk Road apparently was necessary, as Ulbricht had apparently confessed that to an old friend whom the prosecutor plans on calling as a witness. However, Ulbricht's lawyer claims they may know who the real Dread Pirate Roberts is, but, again, this seems like it's a massive legal long shot. While I have many concerns about how Ulbricht was found out, and about whether or not merely operating an online marketplace should be illegal (leaving aside the question of whether and how Ulbricht participated in that market...), to argue that "some other guy did it" and then (conveniently) set Ulbricht up to be the fall guy... seems extremely far fetched. Greenberg's summary:
The new operators of the Silk Road “had been alerted the walls were closing in,” Dratel said. “That’s what compelled the Dread Pirate Roberts to put his escape plan into action,” framing Ulbricht, according to Dratel’s telling.

In Dratel’s version of events, Ulbricht’s store of bitcoins was simply the earnings from his early investments in the cryptocurrency, not the Silk Road profits the prosecutors allege. He points out that the bitcoins seized from Ulbricht are only a “small fraction” of the full $18 million the government has said the Dread Pirate Roberts earned in Silk Road commissions. And he implied that the evidence found on Ulbricht’s computer at the time of his arrest was falsified to “leave him holding the bag when the real operators of Silk Road knew their time was up.” He didn’t elaborate on how evidence could have been planted on Ulbricht’s PC.

“[The Dread Pirate Roberts] is someone who studiously avoided revealing his identity to anyone on the site…This same person goes to a public library and uses a public Wifi connection?” Dratel asked the jury. “That Ross is DPR is a contradiction so fundamental that it defies common sense.”
There's no doubt, if the US's argument is accurate, that Ulbricht was somewhat sloppy, but using that sloppiness as "proof" that he wasn't really DPR, while admitting he had founded Silk Road and when he was found logged into the admin... just seems unbelievable.

Filed Under: defense, dread pirate roberts, ross ulbricht, silk road


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 2:38am

    Well, if he makes it look like a duck... This may be possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 4:45am

    Apparently there was a Forbes interview with DRP where he says he didn't start the site, prior to the arrest of Ulbricht.
    Plus the name.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/08/14/meet-the-dread-pirate-roberts-the-man-behi nd-booming-black-market-drug-website-silk-road/

    "Bitcoin did more than enable the modern online black market, Roberts says. It also brought him and Silk Road together. Roberts isn’t actually the site’s founder, he revealed in our interview. He credits Silk Road’s creation to another, even more secretive entrepreneur whom he declined to tell me anything about and who may have used the “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de guerre before it was assumed by the person I interviewed."

    So either he is DPR but didn't set up the site.
    Or he set up the site and isn't DPR.

    Or he conducted an interview prior to being caught in which he decided to make up the story that DRP and the site creator are different people on the off chance that he would subsequently get caught by law enforcement and then have plausible deniability.

    So, which is more ridiculous?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 4:46am

      Re:

      Oh, and in the interview DPR claims he got his exposure to the top levels of Silk Road by finding a security flaw, indicating he might know his way around computers, and could therefore potentially exploit Ulbricht's computer to help frame him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:21am

        Re: Re:

        It is classic FUD-technique:

        1. Create a nom de plume.
        2. Have several people use the identity.
        3. If caught, you can now present evidence that you couldn't be the identity at a time where another used the name.

        In this way you can literally get away with murder since the legislative system almost always operates on assumption of "one identity, one person" and beyond a shadow of doubt evidence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Not That Chris (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 9:31am

      Re:

      Or, even better, DPR and Ulbricht are in fact the same person, but exist as 2 disparate personalities, neither aware of the other. If all else fails, plead insanity. It works even better if he can switch personalities in the middle of examination.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      The choice of the name "Dread Pirate Roberts" is in itself a rather huge tipoff that it's referring to an office rather than a specific person.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cryophallion, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:05am

    Not the real dread pirate Roberts.

    Seriously, how on earth did we not see this coming? Of course he's not the real dread pirate Roberts. The man he inherited the title from wasn't the real Roberts either. The real one retired 15 years ago and is living in Patagonia!
    I'm just waiting for him to offer the prosecutor to pick which wine is poison, and they drink together.
    And constantly saying as you wish and winking at the judge when he gives his testimony.
    I mean seriously, basing your entire defense on a movie is sure to be effective!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:12am

    It might be true but then he'll have to provide evidence and he will be pressured into revealing who the real DPR is. What then?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:18am

      Re:

      He doesn't really have to prove his story--he just needs to create reasonable doubt of the prosecution's. I find it odd that they're alleging attempted murder-for-hire but not charging him with it. Presumably they would if they had strong evidence showing he was DPR.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tavis, 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:34am

    "I'm not the real Dread Pirate Roberts", he said...

    Time to look for someone who is retired 15 years and living like a king in Patagonia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 8:01am

    using reasonable doubt is a smart move , and honestly who really knows beyond a guess a maybe unless they have physical evidence , other than hardware and software that can be exploited , It's not up to him to prove his case that burden lays on the prosecutors shoulders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 9:35am

    Mike, are you saying an innocent person can't be lured into a fake plot by fake people?

    I believe Ulrich. I am sure there were powerful people behind all the criminal events, and that those people did lure him into a criminal scheme for which he had no desire to do from the beginning, nor the ability to carry out without their help. Sounds familiar?
    Would you put it past our own government or one of its 3 letter agencies to take over the Silk Road in order to entrap innocent people, and its founder by pulling him into the schemes?

    The only evidence that it could not have been the government was that it seems to have worked on such a large scale without any major screw-ups.

    Imagine if the FBI, CIA and NSA got together to take over an "anonymous" international communications and financial network. If they haven't already.

    Remember, they used to call people insane when those people claimed the government was spying on them, and all their communications, and infiltrating their lives by setting undercover women into their lives.

    "When you put on your tin foil hat, double check that the government hasn't gotten Reynolds to build a non-metalic back door into its products."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    H. Rap Scallion, 14 Jan 2015 @ 2:39pm

    I've noticed Mr. Masnick's willingness and apparent comfort in opining on the legal strategy of actual practitioners in a wide variety of cases, civil and criminal.

    Is Mr. Masnick a lawyer? Has he ever practiced?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Another Anonymous, 14 Jan 2015 @ 3:05pm

      Re:

      We are all free to express our opinions on legal strategy, or any other subject, without official endorsement of our knowledge. If something wrong is stated, it is quite quickly corrected with supporting evidence. That is how we learn on an internet forum.

      If you find a legal flaw in something Mike Masnick has posted, feel free to attack his statement with stronger evidence or better reasoning. Don't attack the person, which accomplishes nothing. Then your statements will gain superior credibility.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    H. Rap Scallion, 14 Jan 2015 @ 6:53pm

    I'm just wondering if Mr. Masnick is a lawyer and if he has ever practiced. He seems to have strong opinions on legal strategy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 8:17pm

    "...he implied that the evidence found on Ulbricht’s computer at the time of his arrest was falsified to “leave him holding the bag..."

    Ouch! No full disk encryption? Weak passphrase? Or did the FBI/NSA quantum insert his computer up the tailpipe with a keylogger? Maybe they redirected his web browser into a Foxacid pool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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