The Silk Road Creator’s Defense Team Appeal His Conviction

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Ross-William-UlbrichtLawyers for Ross Ulbricht informed an appeals court that the Silk Road founder deserves a new trial. They also told the court that the trial should be focused on the two federal agents who have admitted to involving in corrupt misconduct at the time of investigating the operations of the online black market.

In the 170-page appeal brief that they filed on Tuesday, Ulbricht’s lawyers requested the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the U.S. to throw off his conviction as well as life sentence for creating and operating the Silk Road. The dark web marketplace sold illegal goods such as fake driver’s licenses and heroin to buyers from around the world.


A year ago, a federal jury in Manhattan had determined that the 31-year old founder of the Silk Road was guilty of seven criminal charges following a trial. The charges included conspiracies to launder money, hack computers and sell drugs and the “kingpin” charge, which is usually reserved for drug cartel leaders and mafia bosses. Katherine Forrest, a U.S. District Judge, sentenced Ulbricht to a life term in prison.

Within two months after the conviction of the Silk Road founder, San Francisco prosecutors unveiled charges against two federal agents, Shaun Bridges and Carl Force, who were involved in investigating the operations of Ross Ulbricht. Shaun Bridges was an agent with the Secret Service and Carl Force was an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Both of them have been sentenced to approximately six years of imprisonment.

In Tuesday’s filing, the lawyers representing Ulbricht said that the defense was prevented from presenting any kind of evidences against the corrupt federal agents by Judge Katherine Forrest during the course of trial last year. This was because the government had directed that secrecy should be maintained when investigating corruption charges. In the Manhattan trial, the federal prosecutors had also said that their investigation into the Silk Road was carried out independent of the investigation of those corrupt federal agents and that the evidence presented against them would in no way have impacted the outcome of the trial.

Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht’s lead attorneyHowever, the contention of Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht’s lead attorney, is that the defense was neither aware of Bridges’ involvement or the scope of the corruption charges in its entirety until after the completion of the trial. He also said that a need to maintain any kind of secrecy was not there as Force was well aware of the investigation prior to the beginning of Ross Ulbricht’s trial. According to Dratel, evidence related to charges against the corrupt federal agents was relevant at the time of the Manhattan trial as the investigation into the activities of the Silk Road was a coordinated effort of many federal districts.

The lawyers of Ross Ulbricht have also requested for a new sentencing by a different judge. Their contention is that the life sentence given to the Silk Road founder was unreasonable as Judge Forrest allowed only the government to present evidence on six overdose deaths that were linked to drugs sold on the Silk Road website, which the defense had always disputed.

During the brief, Ulbricht’s lawyers continued to register their objection to the way in which evidence was presented during the trial. They said that Judge Forrest did not heed to their request to cross-examine witnesses and establish alternate perpetrators (other than Ulbricht). In addition, Ulbricht’s lawyers opined that the Judge should not have allowed presentation of evidence obtained from his Gmail and Facebook accounts as the seizure and search of his laptop by the authorities was illegal.

It is expected that the response to this appeal will be filed by the lawyers representing the government in the near future. Prosecutors are likely to counter argue saying that the offenses committed by Force and Bridges did not have any bearing on the conviction of Ulbricht for the crimes committed by him. This is because Force and Bridges were part of the investigation task force in Baltimore and not part of the FBI’s team (which included agents from the DHS and the IRS) that was led by their office in New York. Further, both Force and Bridges did not testify at Ulbricht’s trial and the office of the FBI in New York had carefully segregated itself from the activities of the task force in Baltimore. Actually, the segregation of the two teams resulted in Ulbricht being separately indicted for attempted murder. This charge was not included in the New York case and it has not been tried so far.

However, the argument being put forward by Ulbricht’s lawyers is that the segregation between Baltimore and New York was not as tight as the government made it out to be. According to Dratel, a DHS agent who was part of the Silk Road investigation team in New York often spoke as well as exchanged intelligence with Force.

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