Convicted Silk Road Leader Wants Retrial

Ross Ulbricht, the convicted creator of the Silk Road online drug bazaar, is set to be sentenced in May, but his lawyer has filed a motion in New York federal court requesting a retrial, CryptoCoinsNews reported.

Ulbricht, the self-declared libertarian economist who claimed he created the site as an economic experiment, was convicted in February of seven federal charges — including drug trafficking and criminal conspiracy charges — stemming from the site that the federal government says ran the massive online illegal drug trade that brought in billions of dollars for selling heroin, cocaine and crystal meth. What started as a small site selling homegrown illegal mushrooms soon turned into a giant bazaar for narcotics-trafficking, illegal goods, computer-hacking tools and money-laundering to an audience in the thousands. Now, Ulbricht faces life in prison for the charges.

But he wants a trial redo, as his lawyer cited the Fifth Amendment as reason for a new trial, claiming that Ulbricht’s trial was denied adequate time to review documents that would have proved his innocence. According to federal court documents CryptoCoinsNews secured from Ulbricht’s lead defense lawyer, his attorney’s claim that the Feds broke due process and violated Ulbricht’s rights by not allowing all the evidence to be properly presented in the courtroom.

During the trial, which Ulbricht did not testify in, his lawyers claimed that he was the one who started the Silk Road site but was not the operator of it at the time it was shut down. Court documents which lead attorney Joshua Dratel filed in court on March 6, claimed the following: “Mr. Ulbricht should be granted a new trial because the government failed to provide exculpatory material and information in a timely manner, thereby denying him his Fifth Amendment right to due process and a fair trial. … Mr. Ulbricht’s motion to suppress evidence should be reopened based on information produced by the government in connection with trial, and should be granted in its entirety.”

The attorneys claim that because Andreas M. Antonopoulos — a key expert witness in the case for the defense — was traveling during the time the witness’ testimony was due, the testimony was not allowed to be properly entered into court, which they claim could have implicated there was another party who was actually the Dread Pirate Roberts. Dratel claims that Antonopoulos was the bitcoin expert needed to prove errors in the prosecution’s claims, which he said involved disproving the evidence presented against Ulbricht about how the bitcoins seized in the case were connected to him (a key point of evidence during the case). Dratel called for a mistrial multiple times during the trial but the judge denied the requests.

“Mr. Ulbricht was unable to provide the Court with a written proffer regarding the expected content of Mr. Antonopoulos’s testimony at that time,” Dratel wrote. “For the same reason, Mr. Ulbricht did not have the ability, in that letter, to provide the Court with the full range of Mr. Antonopoulos’s qualifications and credentials.” Dratel claims that evidence (a 5,000 page document) was submitted just two weeks before the trial and the defense wasn’t given enough time to adjacently use evidence to prove Ulbricht’s innocence. 

The defense claims that Antonopoulos’s testimony would have weakened the FBI’s evidence in relation to how it connected Ulbricht to the bitcoin transactions that the Feds claimed were run through the site to Ulbricht’s account. The defense said that the FBI’s investigation used “failed methodology,” and according to the documents, an “analysis of the total payment volume between addresses corresponding to the Silk Road wallet and Mr. Ulbricht’s wallet will have a critical dependence on the correct identification of change addresses.”  

This claim related to how the bitcoins are connected to a specific person — or in this case, proving if the bitcoins were directly connected to Ulbricht or not.

“Many bitcoin wallets automatically generate unique change addresses for each transaction, which are different from the originating address,” the defense explained, which they claim could disprove evidence brought against Ulbricht that connected him to being the leader of the site — aka the Dread Pirate Roberts. “In bitcoin, access does not imply rightful ownership,” Dratel noted. 

A judge has until April to rule on Dratel’s request; Ulbricht’s sentencing is set for May 15.