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Ross Ulbricht, Alleged Silk Road Kingpin, Gets His Court Date and His Data

The man the government alleges is Dread Pirate Roberts will stand trial in November—and gain access to a laptop.

by Daniel Stuckey
Feb 7 2014, 8:45pm

Ross Ulbricht, the alleged administrator behind the illegal online drug marketplace the Silk Road, will get his day in court on November 3rd, according to a blueprint laid out today in New York's Southern District Court by Judge Katherine Forrest. Ulbrict, alleged by the government to be Silk Road founder Dread Pirate Roberts, is facing four charges related to narcotics conspiracy, running a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering (other charges have been brought against him regarding murder for hire in Maryland). Appearing today in court—clean-shaven, in a navy blue prison uniform—he pleaded "not guilty" to all charges.

Next week, on February 13th, Josh Dratel, Ulbricht's defense attorney, will be handing over hard drives sufficient to hold eight to 10 terabytes of data, which is the approximate size of the evidence which the government has said it may use against Ulbricht. By Feb. 27, two weeks later, the prosecution must return the drives with Silk Road data the FBI collected from computers in a foreign and unnamed country, as well as a drive that holds the contents of the defendant's laptop, which was seized during his dramatic arrest at a San Francisco library in October.

Ulbrict's defense team will be given several months to review the material, and Ulbricht himself will be given access to a laptop at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where he's been kept offline since his arrest.

The defense has insisted that Ulbricht is not considering a plea bargain and, according to some rumors, helping the government take down former Silk Road employees, three of whom were arrested in December. While the defense has yet to discuss its strategy, it continues to draw a distinction between that personal data from Ulbricht's laptop versus the contents of the Silk Road's servers. The government last year seized bitcoin found in a wallet on Ulbricht's laptop amounting to a value of $150 million, which the defense seems to indicate is unrelated to the Silk Road's business activities.

"It's not illegal to own bitcoins, to speculate bitcoins, to collect bitcoins," Dratel told a group of reporters outside the courtroom following his defendant's arraignment on Friday. He intimated that in five years we'll be looking back, baffled by what he sees as a clear distinction of confiscating Ulbricht's personal funds, versus those funds existing elsewhere, in relationship to the marketplace itself. The bitcoin in Ulbricht's wallet on his laptop, the argument seems, could have aided the defendant to post bail.

Judge Forrest noted her preference for setting firm court dates, and marked the calendar for Ulbricht's trial proceedings to begin November 3rd, hoping to work through the case before the holidays.

"Unfortunately," Dratel told reporters in response to questions about where Ulbricht will await trial, "the detention centers are less responsive than the courts," and added that he hopes to work through the case as quickly and efficiently as possible.