A federal judge has denied bail to Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind the Silk Road online drugs marketplace, amid charges that Ulbricht contracted the murders of six people.
Ulbricht, who is accused of founding Silk Road under the moniker of "the Dread Pirate Roberts," appeared in a federal court on Wednesday in New York City, where he is being held on charges of computer hacking, money laundering, and narcotics conspiracy.
He also faces charges in Baltimore, Maryland, related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot. Earlier, prosecutors told the court that Ulbricht tried to commission the deaths of two men by contract killers, one of whom was actually an undercover agent. Now the Baltimore Sun reports that four other names are on Ulbricht's purported hit list, bringing the total to six.
Prosecutors claim that when Ulbricht was told that a Silk Road user going by the name "tony76" was involved in a blackmail plot against him, Ulbricht agreed to pay to have tony76 killed in his home along with three other people who lived at the same residence.
According to a filing by assistant US attorney Serrin Turner that was obtained by Forbes, Ulbricht was willing to pay a total of approximately $730,000 for all six murders he is accused of plotting.
Prosecutors admit there's no evidence that any of these murders actually took place – and in one case, agents actually faked photos of the target's torture and death to send to Ulbricht. But they argued before the court that Ulbricht's apparent willingness to have people killed for money demonstrated "a sinister disregard for the lives of others" and that he "cannot be trusted to comply with bail conditions designed to ensure the safety of other persons and the community."
They also made the case that he would be likely to flee if allowed to go free on bail. Although law enforcement has already seized some $32m in Bitcoins believed to belong to Ulbricht, he is thought to have more, and probably enough to consider him wealthy. Customs agents also intercepted a collection of fake IDs addressed to Ulbricht, and he had a history of foreign travel and multiple ties abroad.
Agents said they also found an apparent to-do list on his computer for life on the run, which included such items as "destroy laptop and hide/dispose," "find place to live on craigslist for cash," and "create new identity (name, backstory)."
"Ulbricht is thus well practiced at living a double life," Turner claimed, noting that Ulbricht concealed his activities on Silk Road from friends and family, even including his onetime girlfriend.
"He was in fact a quite ruthless criminal – one who, with seeming ease and lack of conscience, nonchalantly ordered murders for hire amidst fixing server bugs and answering customer support tickets," Turner's filing claims.
'You've got the wrong guy'
Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht's attorney, said his client denied all these charges, arguing that 29-year-old Ulbricht was not the person known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, that he has no criminal record, and that he had "never committed a violent act in his life."
Earlier this week, a group of Ulbricht's family and friends said they would raise as much as $1m to secure his release on bond, arguing in a letter to the court that Ulbricht is not a criminal but a decent man who lives by principles of "honesty, personal responsibility, and the importance of friends and family."
In his bail proposal, Dratel said that if the court agreed to release Ulbricht on the $1m, he would agree to the court restricting Ulbricht's movements and cutting off his access to the internet.
But prosecutors said Ulbricht's supporters "do not know the other half of Ulbricht." That other half, they said, could be found in the detailed journal Ulbricht kept on his computer, where he chronicled every step of his creation and day-to-day maintenance of Silk Road. Turner's filing cites one such entry:
I began working on a project that had been in my mind for over a year. I was calling it Underground Brokers, but eventually settled on Silk Road. The idea was to create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them.
Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis ultimately sided with prosecutors in the hearing, saying he was "not convinced that there are conditions that could be fashioned to secure [Ulbricht's] presence in court."
As a result, Ulbricht will be held in New York until his trial is concluded, after which he will be indicted separately in Maryland on narcotics and murder-for-hire charges. ®