Silk Road Trial: Week 2 – From Bad to Worse and Beyond

5 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

January 26, 2015

The defense is now on the back foot.

It would be a stretch to say the Ulrbicht defense effort suffered anything but a remarkably negative week last week; a major setback in the picture it had sought to paint for the jury regarding reasonable doubt as to DPR’s identity, combined with contextually strong evidence correlating Ulrbicht with the DPR identity mean that things are getting intense, in a wholly negative way, for the defense.

No more “Gox” as the DPR alternative.

As we saw previously, the defense had sought to turn the mind of the jury to the possibility that not only was Ulbricht NOT DPR, but that there was, at least as far as the Government was concerned, a very real suspect; defense counsel cross-examined Jared Der-Yeghiayan at length on issues relating to Mt. Gox founder Mark Karpeles, and investigative efforts which had been made into Karpeles as DPR. Things were getting contentious on the last day of the first week of the trial, and it seems the prosecution was very busy on MLK day; the Government sought to allege that everything that DHS agent Der-Yeghiayan dropped during the opening week of testimony was hearsay, and ergo, useless to the defense, and as became palpable immediately after the court was back in session, the judge agreed.

The prosecution is all but asking, why does Ulbricht need a second citizenship?

Another aspect of the US Government’s line on Ulbricht as a mastermind with access to substantial funds, a contention that the defense has left well and truly alone, is the issue of Ulbricht seeking information on citizenship in Dominica – a file in relation to the steps to Dominica citizenship this was allegedly located on Ulbricht’s laptop. For those unfamiliar with the situation, the Commonwealth of Dominica is a nation where you can, effectively, buy citizenship  and separately, is the kind of place all sorts of people of questionable character have sought refuge. The author also knows it to be the absolute cheapest of the ‘bargain basement’ options for economic citizenship available, and not only that, that its also one of, if not the, the fastest routes to a second citizenship around. In much the same way that the defense had sought to raise a very poignant ‘what if’ in the minds of the jury by attempting to implicate Mt. Gox’s founder previously, as a potential DPR contender, then the prosecution is now putting a similarly poignant, though by no means conclusive, unanswered question in the minds of the jury – why does this man need a second, economic investment based citizenship?

Ulbricht’s buddy the programmer takes the stand.

No one has ever suggested that DPR could’ve conceived, coded and run Silk Road alone, so naturally, we’re going to be hearing from those who helped either DPR, or Ulbricht. According to testimony heard on Thursday, a buddy of Ulbricht’s, one Richard Bates, a former eBay employee not only provided tech support for Silk Road via GChat, he also learned directly from Ulbricht that the site was his creation – it seemed someone else had too, and mentioned it on his Facebook wall and that he was at the very least running it as late as 2011, and the defense was pleased to attack the fact that he had struck a non prosecution deal on a litany of conduct connected with his involvement on Silk Road, but all told, cross examination was short, with it being evident not much could be leveraged.

Ulbricht’s (supposed) journal – a heavy blow to the defense.

The journal, (excerpts) is, prima facie, from an evidentiary perspective, utterly damning. Not found on some server somewhere and tied to Ulbricht via a patchwork quilt of circumstantial evidence of IP address logins or similar, the journal was, apparently, just sitting there in Ulbricht’s laptop at the time of his arrest. The details don’t bear repeating, beyond the fact that the journal incorporates independently verifiable, specific aspects of Ulbricht’s life, such as his time in Australia on specific dates corroborated by certain immigration stamps in Ulbricht’s passport (see line 107 here):

Q. If we can go to the next page, please. Those are the only
stamps in there, right, there’s one for Australia, one for the

Island of Dominica and one for Costa Rica, right?

with specific people, in specific places, interspersed with very specific and unequivocal references to the operations and management of Silk Road, as well as murder for hire allegations we’ve previously looked at in depth, for a long period beyond that which the defense had contended that Ulbricht was DPR.

What does the journal mean for the defense?

If you were the facilitator and creator of the what has become the dark market equivalent to a genericized trademark in terms of wholesale, Tor based law breaking activity, would you think keeping a journal about your nefarious deeds? Would you prepare and maintain an evidence bomb of epic proportions, because, and I quote, “[s]ome day I may have a story written about my life and it would be good to have a detailed account of it.” It sounds like the height of narcissistic self indulgence, and could be categorized as an almost suicidally stupid, self defeating breach of OPSEC, but allegedly, that’s what Ross Ulbricht wrote in a journal found on his computer. But will the jury buy that someone apparently so forensically aware have been so naive? If the jury does accept that this journal was written by Ross Ulbricht, the defense line about him having created the site but handing over control to still unnamed third parties, has essentially been hung, drawn and quartered.

Its only going to get heavier from here

There’s a very simple tenet when it comes to calling prosecution witnesses in a jury trial – leave your best for last. Things are likely to get more convoluted from here, but rest assured, the prosecution witnesses are leading, ultimately, to a crescendo – a major revelation of some kind at the end, intended to sway the jury as much as possible. If the prosecution has better than a journal which the defendant allegedly wrote, outlining his activities and a witness with whom they cut a very, very lenient deal in return for testimony, rest assured, its going to be big.

Updated: 2015-01-26