Defendant in Major Cybercrime Case Sentenced to Life in Prison for Drug Distribution, Hacking, and Money Laundering

In early 2015, a federal jury found the alleged proprietor of an online marketplace for illegal drugs guilty of online drug distribution, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and other charges. Prosecutors accused the defendant of creating and operating the marketplace, known as the “Silk Road,” using the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts.” United States v. Ulbricht, No. 1:14-cr-00068, superseding indictment (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 21, 2014). The defendant’s principal defense strategy involved admitting to creating the site but claiming that he was not the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who had operated it in recent years. After the jury convicted him, the court vacated two counts. It sentenced him to concurrent life sentences on two counts and to concurrent three-year sentences on each of the three remaining counts.

Prosecutors alleged that the defendant created and operated the Silk Road, an online marketplace for illegal drugs. The Silk Road operates in what is known as the “dark web,” where users can only access the site by using software to conceal their identities and locations. Most transactions allegedly take place using Bitcoin and other forms of anonymous currency.

Prosecutors had the burden of proving, first, that the “Dread Pirate Roberts” operated the Silk Road, and second, that the defendant was the “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Law enforcement officers arrested the defendant at a San Francisco public library in 2013, and FBI officials stated that he was logged into a Silk Road site at the time. Investigators were able to access the Silk Road’s infrastructure as a result, and prosecutors used this as evidence against the defendant.

The government charged the defendant with seven counts in August 2014. These included:

– Narcotics trafficking, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A);
– Narcotics distribution on the internet, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(h), (b)(1)(A);
– Conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, 21 U.S.C. § 846; and – Operating a continuing criminal enterprise, 21 U.S.C. § 848(a).

The indictment also charged the defendant with conspiracy to commit computer hacking, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(b), and conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, 18 U.S.C. § 1028(f), for allowing the sale of hacking software and false identification documents on the Silk Road. Finally, prosecutors claimed that the Silk Road’s “Bitcoin-based payment system that served to facilitate the illegal commerce on the site” constituted conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ulbricht, indictment at 12, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h).

The defendant reportedly tried to introduce evidence, including several character witnesses, that he was not the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who actually operated the site. Instead, he claimed, he was the “fall guy” for the actual proprietor or proprietors. The judge excluded much of this evidence, and the jury was not convinced. After an 11-day trial, it convicted him on all seven counts in February 2015.

In a June 1, 2015 judgment, the court vacated the convictions for narcotics trafficking and narcotics trafficking conspiracy. It sentenced the defendant to concurrent life sentences for narcotics distribution on the internet and operating a continuing criminal enterprise, and to concurrent three-year sentences for the rest.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

If you are facing charges for an alleged criminal offense, an experienced internet crime attorney can guide you through the criminal justice process and fight to make sure that police, prosecutors, and the courts respect your procedural and Constitutional rights. Michael J. Brown, a board-certified criminal defense lawyer, has represented west Texas defendants for more than 20 years. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Theft and Misuse of Computer Data Are Becoming Major Areas of Cybercrime Prosecutions, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 17, 2014
Cyber Crime Investigations Often Assisted by Incorrect Use of Anonymizing Technology, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 11, 2014
Federal Prosecutors Charge Alleged Proprietor of Online Marketplace for Illegal Drugs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 3, 2013

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