The Silk Road trial is heating up as sittings have entered the third week. Most importantly, the first hints of an alleged murder-for-hire plot are now surfacing, while the Federal prosecutors have added new proof to the already overwhelming stack of evidence suggesting Ross Ulbricht and Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) are one and the same.
The third week of sittings took off where the second week left off: the prosecution's attempt to link the Dread Pirate Roberts alias to Ross Ulbricht. And much like the second week, matters are looking bleak for Ulbricht.
On Monday, IRS special agent Gary Alford explained how he had found Ulbricht and how he linked him to Dread Pirate Roberts and the Silk Road. According to Alford, Ulbricht did a sloppy job of keeping his early Silk Road related aliases – most importantly “altoid” – separated from his real identity. Simply using a Google search, Alford found the first ever internet user to publicly mention Silk Road on a message board: altoid. And it was this same altoid that used the e-mail address [email protected] in a Bitcointalk post, while looking for “the best and brightest IT pro in the bitcoin community to be the lead developer in a venture backed bitcoin startup company.”
After skipping Tuesday due to the snowy New York weather, sittings continued on Wednesday with a clear attempt of the prosecution to paint a grim picture of the digital black market: heroin dealer and addict Michael Duch was called to the stands. Duch, who is a former IT entrepreneur that was arrested for dealing on Silk Road in 2013, explained to the jury how he went from using prescription drugs, to becoming addicted to heroin, to reselling street heroin on Silk Road for a profit. As a key point of his testimony, Duch explained how the Silk Road lowered the bar to sell heroin.
“I saw the relative ease that came with it. There was a personal level of safety, as well as anonymity."
But the trial really came up to speed on Thursday, which saw a revelation that once again highlighted the absence of default anonymity in the Bitcoin system. Former FBI agent Ilhwan Yum revealed to have found that some 700,000 bitcoins were sent directly from Silk Road's servers near Philadelphia (USA) and Reykjavik (Iceland) to Ulbricht's laptop. No tumblers, no detours, no tricks. “Direct, one-to-one transfers”, Yum emphasized.
Matters are looking bleak for Ulbricht indeed.
But arguably most controversial of all of the charges brought against Ulbricht, perhaps especially for many of his loyal supporters, are the alleged attempted murder-for-hire plots. Most of these supporters, after all, have stood by Ulbricht specifically because they consider him either the victim of a failed and immoral war against drugs, or because they believe running a website shouldn’t be illegal regardless of what people use it for – or both. Some even regard him as a martyr for drug or internet freedom.
Ordering hits on people, however, might not attract as many supporters – if any. And it would have certainly not bedded well with Silk Road's own moral framework, as laid out by DPR himself: “Our basic rules are to treat others as you would wish to be treated, mind your own business, and don’t do anything to hurt or scam someone else.”
So why might Ulbricht have ordered a hit, based on to the prosecution's presented evidence? The alleged attempted murder-for-hire plot, as explained on Thursday afternoon, essentially involves five aliases: Silk Road owner Dread Pirate Roberts (allegedly Ulbricht), LSD dealer “FriendlyChemist” (later identified by DPR to be Canadian resident Blake Krokoff), Silk Road dealer “LucyDrop”, self identified ex-partner of LucyDrop “RealLucyDrop”, and self identified Hell's Angel “redandwhite.”
According to chat logs presented by the prosecution, LSD dealer FriendlyChemist contacted DPR, and told him he was defrauded by LucyDrop for US$700,000 worth. Additionally, FriendlyChemist told DPR that this money was not his, but he in turn owed it to a Canadian criminal organization, the Hell’s Angels. Moreover, FriendlyChemist said to believe DPR was involved in the theft, and demanded him to pay the money back. If not, FriendlyChemist threatened to expose the real-life identities of "dozens of top vendors" and "thousands" of customers on Silk Road.
Dread Pirate Roberts, however, did not tolerate these threats, the prosecution explained. Instead, the owner of the Silk Road contacted LucyDrop’s self identified ex-partner, RealLucyDrop, and asked him for the real identity of (the first) LucyDrop. The reason Dread Pirate Roberts asked for this information, was that he needed “leverage” in order to make LucyDrop stop, DPR explained. "I need his real world identity, so I can threaten real world violence," he said. And: "I'm not fronting money to anyone, and I won't be blackmailed."
Later, the prosecution explained, things got even more interesting, as self identified Hell’s Angel redandwhite contacted DPR, once again confirming that several hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen. And, thus, that FriendlyChemist owed this money to redandwhite. As a result, importantly, DPR passed on FriendlyChemist's real identity – Blake Krokoff - which he had seemingly acquired by that time.
And, for the first time, the possibility of an assassination was mentioned. "In my eyes, FriendlyChemist is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was executed,” DPR told redandwhite, “but then you'd be out of US$700,000."
And that's about as far as the prosecution got, as this trial day had reached its end before any more evidence could be presented. Whether the prosecution will contend that Ulbricht – or Dread Pirate Roberts – actually ordered hits himself, and how, remains to be seen on Monday, as this third week has wrapped up with what can only be described as a cliffhanger ending.