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Convicted Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht seeks new trial

The motion claims prosecutors did not turn over evidence that might have cleared Ulbricht until two weeks before the trial began.

A supporter of Ross Ulbricht protests outside his trial in January. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of online drug marketplace Silk Road, is seeking a new trial based on the premise that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence in a timely fashion.

After hearing evidence for nearly a month, a jury in February took less than three hours to find the 30-year-old guilty of all seven charges related to computer hacking conspiracy, narcotics trafficking conspiracy, and money laundering. The virtual bazaar, which Ulbricht founded in 2011, was a haven for buyers and sellers of illegal narcotics, allowing them to conduct business without easy detection by authorities.

In a motion filed Friday in New York federal court, Ulbricht's attorneys argued that a new trial should be granted "because the government failed to produce exculpatory material in a timely fashion that would have permitted the defense effective use of the material and information at trial." As a result, Ulbricht was denied his Fifth Amendment right to due process, they contend.

The motion is the latest chapter in what became one of the strangest, darkest tales of Web culture run amok in recent memory. Prosecutors said Ulbricht conceived and oversaw Silk Road operations as it grew into a $1.2 billion drug empire known by users as an Amazon of sorts for narcotics, with buyer ratings and money-back guarantees. Prosecutors and the FBI also said Ulbricht hired people over the Internet to kill those trying to extort him for cash, although there is no evidence the murders occurred.

Prosecutors contended that the former Eagle Scout was not the happy-go-lucky, yet reserved, engineer he seemed to be. They claimed that when he logged online, Ulbricht donned the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts, an alias borrowed from "The Princess Bride" novel and film adaptation designed to give the appearance of many conspirators and not just a single leader.

Ulbricht's attorneys argued in their motion Friday that evidence potentially proving Ulbricht's innocence was included in 5,000 pages of material turned over by prosecutors to the defense two weeks before the trial began. Among the redacted pages was exculpatory information concerning an "alternative perpetrator," the motion said.

Ulbricht defense acknowledged that he was indeed the creator of the Silk Road but contended that he handed responsibility to someone else. They claimed Ulbricht became the perfect "fall guy" for that unnamed operator of the site.

The motion also suggests that investigators may have violated Ulbricht's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure by conducting warrantless surveillance of Ulbricht's activities on Tor, the anonymous network that drug sellers and buyers used to conduct transactions.

Ulbricht, who faces up to life in prison after being convicted of being a "kingpin" who ran a continuing criminal enterprise, is scheduled to be sentenced May 15.