Little more than a year after his arrest, 30 year-old Ross Ulbricht has been convicted of starting and running Silk Road the infamous online drug marketplace.
On Wednesday, February 4, after only 3 and half hours of deliberation, a jury found Ulbricht guilty of all 7 charges, which included computer hacking, drug trafficking and running a criminal enterprise.
The evidence revealed since Ulbricht’s arrest has been damning; Ross was first arrested in a San Francisco public library with his encrypted laptop open, giving police full access to everything. From journal entries documenting the day-to-day operations of Silk Road, to chat logs between Ulbricht and Silk Road admins, to the control panel of the website itself, the evidence of the young programmer’s connection to the illicit website was strong.
In a surprising move, the legal defense of the Silk Road mastermind admitted early on in the trial, Ulbricht was indeed the man who founded the website. However, according to the defense, Ulbricht passed on the website to another operator soon after Silk Road launched.
Another twist shocked bitcoin enthusiasts and the general public alike. Jared Deryeghiayan, a special agent with theDepartment of Homeland Security, revealed during a cross examination that in 2012 and 2013 the agency was investigating Mark Karpeles as possibly being the owner and operator of Silk Road.
A separate investigation by the Baltimore DHS agency led to the confiscation of $3 million from Karpeles for operating Mt.Gox without a money transmitter license. Knowing that he was also being investigated as the possible operator of the Silk Road, the Baltimore DHS agents offered Karpeles the option to give up the founder of the website. Deryeghiayan did not say whether Karpeles named anyone, and it remains unknown if Karpeles even had the knowledge to do so.
The exploration of Karpeles’ possible involvement was soon put to an end by Judge Forrest. The judge believed that the information was so unsupported that she had part of the DHS’s agent testimony thrown out on the grounds of hearsay. She also blocked more evidence and expert witnesses that were supposedly supportive of alternative narrative of Karpeles being the actual mastermind behind Silk Road’s massive growth.
According to Dratel, the suppression of this evidence led to the quick decision by the jury. “What you saw in terms of length of deliberations is demonstrative of [what happens] when the defense is precluded and limited and circumscribed in the way that it was,” Dartel said outside of the courtroom to reporters.
The defense plans to make the blocked evidence the main focus of their appeal.
If the appeal is unsuccessful however, Ulbricht will be facing serious prison time. Running a criminal enterprise comes with minimum of 20 years and maximum of life; conspiracy to traffic narcotics has minimum of 10 years; and his remaining 5 charges aren’t much lighter when comes to sentencing.
Ulbricht will be sentenced later this year in May.
“Silk Road Has Risen Again”
Weeks after the original Silk Road was shut down, a new website under the same name came online. “Rising from the ashes,” Silk Road 2.0 returned with more vigor than the first. With a new Dread Pirate Roberts, the website grew far beyond the original website: the number of vendors, illicit goods and orders soared.
Nearly a year after the original Silk Road was shut down, the FBI teamed up with several international police agencies and arrested the owner of Silk Road 2.0. Moments after being arrested in his San Francisco home, Blake Benthall, a 26-year-old former SpaceX employee, admitted to everything — including being the mastermind behind the online drug den.
Benthall, who went by the online username Defcon, and was second in command at the original Silk Road, ran the online black market poorly. He accessed the website’s servers with his real IP address, registered the servers for the website under his real name, and gave an undercover agent access to the the website’s inner workings.
Despite Benthall’s incompetence at running an illegal e-commerce website, the online drug trade has continued to grow to new heights. Today, the market leaders are Agora and Evolution Marketplace, which boast a total of approximately 50,000 items for sale. The original Silk Road had 13,000 listings, and was the only substantial marketplace around.
It seems that the new generation of dark net markets are learning as well. Evolution and Agora are not waging a counter offensive on the War On Drugs, which is vastly different from the politically charged Silk Roads. They are simply businesses — only in it for the money. They also seem to be more secure than their predecessors. During Operation Onymous, which took down Silk Road 2.0, Agora or Evolution lost a day of business but were not taken down.
Even though the industry’s pioneers have been sentenced to jail, the online drug trade of today is adapting, learning and larger than ever.
Did Ross Ulbricht have a fair trial? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos courtesy of mashable.com, dazedigital.com, and techtimes.com.