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Judge Rejects Every Defense Argument In The Silk Road Trial

As it was published in wired, things are not looking too bright for Ross Ulbricht:

In a ruling released Wednesday, Judge Katherine Forrest denied a motion by Ross Ulbricht, the 30-year-old alleged creator of the Silk Road billion-dollar online drug bazaar, to dismiss criminal charges against him that include narcotics trafficking conspiracy, money laundering, and hacking conspiracy charges, as well as a “continuing criminal enterprise” charge that’s better known as the “kingpin” statute used to prosecute criminal gang and cartel leaders.

That earlier motion, filed in April, raised potentially trial-shifting questions: Can Ulbricht really be accused of running a drug-selling conspiracy when he merely ran a website that made the narcotics sales possible? And can he be charged with money laundering when bitcoin doesn’t necessarily meet the requisite definition of money?’

According to Forrest’s latest ruling, yes and yes. She rejected every argument made in the defense’s motion, starting with the idea that Ulbricht had merely provided an innocent platform for hosting the Silk Road’s illicit e-commerce, just as eBay might occasionally host illegal content without its knowledge.

“Silk Road was specifically and intentionally designed for the purpose of facilitating unlawful transactions,” Forrest writes in her 51-page order, embedded below. “Ulbricht is alleged to have knowingly and intentionally constructed and operated an expansive black market for selling and purchasing narcotics and malicious software and for laundering money. This separates Ulbricht’s alleged conduct from the mass of others whose websites may—without their planning or expectation—be used for unlawful purposes.”

Ulbricht’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, had made the argument that if anything, the Silk Road should be covered instead by a law known as the “Crack House Statute.” That 1986 law was created to hold landlords accountable for knowingly owning a property where drug deals were taking place. Dratel argued that if the more serious narcotics charges in Ulbricht’s case applied, there would be no need for that landlord-focused law.

But Forrest countered in her opinion that Ulbricht is accused of being more than a disinterested landlord. By allegedly designing the Silk Road to use tools like the anonymity software Tor and the potentially tough-to-trace bitcoin, she argues that he had invited drug dealers onto the property. “Ulbricht’s alleged conduct is more akin to a builder who designs a house complete with secret entrances and exits and specially designed traps to stash drugs and money,” she writes. “This is not an ordinary dwelling, but a drug dealer’s ‘dream house.’”

She went on to note that Ulbricht is accused of working to organize and command control of the Silk Road’s operations, and also took a commission from its profits—all the kind of behavior that would make him an active participant. “The allegations amount to Ulbricht acting as a sort of ‘godfather’—determining the territory, the actions which may be undertaken, and the commissions he will retain; disciplining others to stay in line; and generally casting himself as a leader – and not a service

By far the most closely followed argument in Ulbricht’s April defense motion, however, had been its contention that bitcoin users can’t be accused of money laundering because bitcoin isn’t “money.” The motion cited statements about bitcoin by the IRS and U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that described it as neither “funds” nor a “monetary instrument,” the two terms used in money laundering statutes. In fact, the IRS has instead described bitcoin as “property” for tax purposes.

But Forrest tossed out that argument, too. She points out in her opinion that neither the IRS nor FinCEN have the power to define money laundering laws. And she said it was easily clear enough that bitcoin had function as money in the Silk Road’s dealings. “Sellers using Silk Road are not alleged to have given their narcotics and malicious software away for free – they are alleged to have sold them,” she writes. “The money laundering statute is broad enough to encompass use of Bitcoins in financial transactions. Any other reading would—in light of Bitcoins’ sole raison d’etre—be nonsensical.”

The rejection of Ulbricht’s motion could have rippled effects beyond the Silk Road case. Former Bitcoin Foundation vice chairman Charlie Shrem was also arrested last January and charged with Bitcoin money laundering–his trial is still pending. Projects like Darkcoin and Dark Wallet that seek to enable the anonymous use of cryptocurrency could also find themselves on thinner ice as that the limits of bitcoin’s legal anonymity have become clearer.

Bitcoin’s appeal for many of its users, after all, has been the potential to spend the currency privately, without any ties to the user’s identity. Wednesday’s ruling serves as a reminder: Get caught using that anonymity for illegal purposes, and you could face just as much trouble as if you’d been dealing in old-fashioned dollars.

Source: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/silkroad-bitcoin-isnt-money/


  1. This doesn’t surprise me. I figured that they have every intention of making an example out of Ross. I’m surprised they didn’t include the murder for hire charge too.

    • I reckon the murder for hire charges are trumped up to assassinate him in court of public opinion. At least I hope so ’cause if true, it will take allot away from his achievements, in my opinion. Seems like the mud-slinging does work?!?

      • Fred

        It could well be mud slinging. I guess we will know if they are able to present actual decrypted dialogue from his computer. I guess that would lend credence to the “kingpin” statute they added. They are essentially trying to convict him of being a mob boss. That one surprised me.

  2. Judge is working for FBI, she is not independent, they made for her career and money and now she works for them. Simply so. There is no fair trial.

    • gregory

      Bullshit. Ross ran an underground narcotics distribution network and the judge is supposed to turn a blind eye? trial is being conducted fair stop being a fanboy. Ross was an idiot, he got caugt, and now hes going to pay for his mistakes. hope he learns some value lessons in the shower room… :)

  3. Certainly they have chosen a *proactive* judge they own for this case as expected. This is why the alt coins will blurr all transactions with implemented multi tier anonymity.

    The crappy case law that will come out of this thing.
    Another reason to HIDE YO TRACKS. Ross got sloppy and now he is playing ball with cheaters and real crooks.

  4. dude make people send this judge messages. I always send judges messages when they are doing stupid things like this. You know they will read it and think about it and if they think about it then we have one. like tell people to bug this judge into submission.

  5. Of course there’s no way he could ever get a fair trial. Did anyone ever really think that he would?

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