‘Dread Pirate’ Wrote of Plan for ‘Silk Road Everything!’Bob Van Voris
The man accused of running the Silk Road online drug marketplace used a personal journal to record everything from his efforts growing hallucinogenic mushrooms to his success turning the website into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, jurors were told.
Prosecutors last week told jurors that Ross William Ulbricht’s journal contains “devastating confessions.” In court on Wednesday, some of the entries were made public, and they tell of the site’s rapid expansion after its 2011 start.
“I began working on a project that had been in my mind for over a year,” the journal reads. “I was calling it Underground Brokers, but eventually settled on Silk Road. The idea was to create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them.”
Ulbricht, 30, faces as long as life in prison if he’s convicted of conspiracy and Internet drug trafficking at a trial in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors said he’s the mastermind of a site used overwhelmingly for drug sales. Offered online were LSD, hashish, crystal methamphetamine, Ecstasy and black tar heroin. He ran the site under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts,” prosecutors claim.
Ulbricht denies wrongdoing. He says he started Silk Road but left after a few months and that he was set up as a “fall guy” by Mark Karpeles, the former head of the bankrupt Mt. Gox Co. bitcoin exchange and the true Silk Road boss. Karpeles has said he had nothing to do with Silk Road.
Ulbricht hasn’t said whether he is the author of the journal entries. In court on Wednesday, Thomas Kiernan, a computer scientist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told jurors he found the journal on the Samsung 700Z laptop agents seized from Ulbricht during his 2013 arrest while working on the computer in a San Francisco library.
In one of the entries, the author says he started out by producing in a cabin “several kilos of high-quality shrooms,” which he then offered for sale.
“Only a few days after launch, I got my first signups, and then my first message,” the journal reads. “I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself. Little by little, people signed up, and vendors signed up, and then it happened. My first order. I’ll never forget it.”
Journal entries, online chat transcripts and other documents were entered into evidence by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Howard. Another entry refers to a 2011 online article about the site, which led to a dramatic increase in traffic.
“A huge spike in signups, and the beginning of an upward trend in commerce that would continue until the time of this writing, and hopefully for much longer,” it reads.
The journal describes finding some “hired guns to help me take the site to the next level.” A man using the name “Variety Jones” is described as “a real mentor.”
“Him coming onto the scene has re-inspired me and given me direction on the SR project,” reads an entry dated Dec. 29, 2011. “He has helped me see a larger vision. A brand that people can come to trust and rally behind. Silk Road chat, Silk Road exchange, Silk Road credit union, Silk Road market, Silk Road everything!”
In another, the author talks of feeling “extremely vulnerable and scared” after Silk Road’s increased notoriety resulted in two U.S. senators calling for it to be shut down.
“The US govt, my main enemy, was aware of me and some of it’s members were calling for my destruction,” the author wrote using less-than-perfect grammar.
In another entry, the journal writer frets that he’s spoken too freely about his activities.
“I am so stupid. Everyone knows I am working on a bitcoin exchange,” the author said. “It felt wrong to lie completely so I tried to tell the truth without revealing the bad part, but now I am in a jam. Everyone knows too much. Dammit.”
Kiernan told jurors that FBI agents hunting Ulbricht believed the contents of his computer would be valuable and planned the arrest so he wouldn’t have time to encrypt or destroy files. A male and female agent began a loud argument behind Ulbricht as a diversion, and when Ulbricht turned to look the woman grabbed the computer, Kiernan said.
The trial, which began last week, may last six weeks. Prosecutors have said they’ll offer evidence that Ulbricht tried to solicit murders for hire of six people who threatened Silk Road. Ulbricht isn’t charged in connection with the murder plots in this trial. The government says no one was killed.
The case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 14-cr-00068, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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