Trial Starts Tuesday for Man Charged in Online Black Market and Murder-for-Hire Plots

Posted: January 12, 2015 in News
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Murder-for-hire allegations will be central to the New York trial of Ross William Ulbricht, a San Francisco man, accused of running an online black market for drugs.  U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest overruled defense objections concluding that prosecutors could introduce evidence of six murder plots.  Jury selection will begin Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Ulbricht ran an underground website called Silk Road, where hundreds of kilograms of drugs were sold to over 100,000 people.  Ulbricht has pled not guilty and is disputing that he is “Dread Pirate Roberts”, an online alias and reference to a 1987 comedy The Princess Bride.

The government maintains that Ulbricht in an attempt to protect his operations asked others to kill those who posed a threat to his operations.

“To be sure, the evidence is prejudicial to Ulbricht, and it does inject an element of violence into the case,” Forrest wrote in an opinion letting the evidence be shown to jurors. “However, the prejudicial effect is reduced by the government’s stipulation that no actual murders [occurred].”

“The charges in this case are extremely serious: Ulbricht is charged not with participating in a run-of-the-mill drug distribution conspiracy, but with designing and operating an online criminal enterprise of enormous scope, worldwide reach, and capacity to generate tens of millions of dollars…Evidence that defendant sought to protect this sprawling enterprise by soliciting murders-for-hire is, in this overall context, not unduly prejudicial.”

Ulbricht was arrested on October 1, 2013 at a San Francisco public library, as FBI agents swarmed him and seized his computer.  The government alleges that he started Silk Road in 2011, saying he “[wanted to] create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever”.  Prosecutors say that they have a spreadsheet found on his computer with an item called “sr inc” listed as being worth $104 million.

He was charged in Manhattan with conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking and conspiring to commit money laundering.  He is also charged in Baltimore.

If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.

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