Silk Road Operator Ross Ulbricht Seeks New Trial as Investigation Improprieties Leak Out

Ulbricht’s defense team filed a multipage argument with a list of improprieties and abuses in Ulbricht’s investigation and trial.

Photo: o.maloteau/Flickr

Photo: o.maloteau/Flickr

A year has passed since the imposition of life sentence without parole to Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the notorious Silk Road web marketplace. The website was launched in 2011. Since then Silk Road has been an unregulated online marketplace where customers could purchase anything starting from illegal drugs to hacking instructions. Moreover, the site used software which permitted clients to browse anonymously.  Payments were made using bitcoin, a digital currency that’s difficult to trace.

Ross Ulbricht was found guilty on all seven counts ranging  from money laundering to drug trafficking, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and computer hacking. Prosecutors described Ulbricht “as a power-hungry kingpin who used threats of violence and murder to protect his multimillion-dollar drug empire.”

Now Wired informs that Ulbricht’s defense team filed a 145-page argument for a new trial. The appeal enumerates all the improprieties and abuses in Ulbricht’s investigation and calls for a court to throw out the conviction on all seven counts. Defense states that the court erroneously suppressed information about federal agents involved in investigation.

The case was presented as if the latter used their positions to steal bitcoins from the site and even attempted to extort money from Ulbricht. In particular Ulbricht’s attorneys mention two corrupt agents participating in investigation.

According to them, crimes of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Mark Force IV and Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges weren’t revealed to the defense until after the trial. However the evidence of Force’s and Bridges’s corruption was both material and exculpatory. Now defense particularly insists that corrupt agents Force and Bridges could have used their access to the Silk Road’s site to tamper with logs or even to fabricate evidence.

Joshua Dratel, lead attorney, claims that he asked Judge Katherine Forrest for a mistrial and was rejected no less than five times. He wasn’t permitted to cross-examine prosecution witnesses about alternative suspects who might have been possible owners or administrators of the Silk Road.

Dratel points as well to the breach of the fourth amendment privacy rights – Ulbricht’s laptop was searched with an overly broad warrant and his online accounts were tracked with a warrantless pen register. It turned out that there was a statement from a Silk Road employee who expressed his opinion that there were multiple people running the Silk Road under pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts”. The statement was fully ignored by the court.

Finally, the defense considers Judge Forrest’s sentence of life without parole to be unfair. It claims that Ulbricht can’t be blamed for deaths from drug overdoses as he just ran a website, a platform that didn’t itself sell any particular drugs. Dratel also disputed such a harsh punishment as Forrest’s stated intention of preventing future criminals from following in Ulbricht’s footsteps.

“The life sentence imposed on 30-year-old Ross Ulbricht ‘shocks the conscience’…and is therefore substantively unreasonable,” concludes Dratel’s argument. “Accordingly, Ulbricht should be re-sentenced before a different judge to avoid the irremediable taint from the improper factors the Court considered.”

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