Accused Silk Road operator never abandoned website, U.S. tells jury

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 03, 2015 2:15 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. prosecutor sought on Tuesday to dissuade jurors of believing that the man who created the underground website Silk Road abandoned the venture before authorities shut it down, saying he operated it from beginning to end.

Ross Ulbricht, who is on trial in Manhattan federal court, admits to creating Silk Road, where drugs and other goods could be bought with bitcoins. But his lawyers have said he sold the website and became the "fall guy" for its true operators.

During closing arguments, a prosecutor tried to refute that claim as "absurd," saying that a "mountain of evidence" from Silk Road's servers and Ulbricht's laptop showed he never ceded control of the website, which they say he ran under the alias Dread Pirate Roberts.

"He built it, he grew it, he operated it from start to bottom until the end, when he was arrested logged into the website as its mastermind," said the prosecutor, Serrin Turner.

Silk Road operated from at least January 2011 until October 2013, when authorities seized the website and arrested Ulbricht at a public library in San Francisco.

By the time it was shut down, Silk Road had generated nearly $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commissions, prosecutors said.

Ulbricht, 30, faces seven counts, including narcotics trafficking conspiracy, for his role building what Turner called "an online storefront for drug dealers."

The Dread Pirate Roberts alias, borrowed from a character in the 1987 movie "The Princess Bride," was a "bogus cover story," Turner added, intended to convince people the pseudonym could be passed on to others, as in the film.

"The defendant is trying to dust off the old 'Dread Pirate Roberts' flag and fly it one more time - before you, ladies and gentlemen," Turner said.

The defense was expected to present its closing arguments Tuesday afternoon.

The case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-06919.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Dan Grebler)