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Security

For Silk Road founder, evidence keeps piling up

In the latest trial twist, millions of dollars in bitcoins were found flowing to the laptop of Ross Ulbricht.

Supporters of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged creator and operator of the Silk Road underground market, stand in front of a Manhattan federal court house on the first day of jury selection for his trial on January 13 in New York City. Getty Images

Ross Ulbricht's defense is looking shakier by the day.

In the latest series of developments, federal prosecutors said the alleged mastermind of Silk Road, an online bazaar for drugs and other contraband, had millions of dollars in bitcoins on his laptop, according to Wired. That revelation undermines Ulbricht's defense, who claims he was "the fall guy" for someone else.

Prosecutors on Thursday said the FBI traced more than 700,000 bitcoins, or around $13.4 million, representing around 4,000 transactions on the site.

Now 30, Ulbricht has admitted he founded Silk Road, but handed over control of the site to another individual when maintaining it became too much of a burden. Both Ulbricht and that second Silk Road administrator used the pseudonym, Dread Pirate Roberts, muddying the question of who to tie to chat logs, emails and other evidence.

A former Eagle Scout, Ulbricht created Silk Road in early 2011 as a bazaar for illegal drugs. It garnered early attention because buyers and sellers were able to conduct business using bitcoins. Around $1.2 billion in contraband transactions had been conducted on Silk Road by the time the federal government shuttered the service in 2013.

The Silk Road site could be accessed anonymously using special software, which anyone can download for free, that lets users reach an underground layer of the Internet not accessible through standard Web browsers. That place, a haven for illicit activities as well as a way to circumvent government censorship, is known as the Dark Web.

Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempting to arrange six murders, computer hacking, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted. Lawyers for the government and Ulbricht declined to say whether he will take the stand when contacted on January 13.

At the heart of the case is the identity of the second Dread Pirate Roberts, if such a person exists, and whether Ulbricht's timeline is reliable.

The trial has had numerous others twists and turns since it began more than two weeks ago. The jury has seen testimony from a college friend who helped the Silk Road website as well as from a heroin dealer who used the site to sell drugs.

A particularly dark element of the trial has been the detailing of Ulbricht's alleged attempts to assassinate various extortionists threatening his anonymity. Prosecutors have alleged that he paid what he believed were legitimate hit men for the crimes in bitcoins. None of the murders is believed to have taken place, the FBI has said.