A man was swiftly convicted Wednesday of creating and operating an underground website that prosecutors said enabled drug dealers worldwide to reach customers they would never find on the street.
Ross William Ulbricht was convicted of drug and conspiracy. The jury’s verdict in federal court in Manhattan came after little more than three hours of deliberations and one day after prosecutors urged jurors to follow Ulbricht’s “digital fingerprints” and discount defense claims that he was framed by others in a murky Internet world where nothing is what it seems.
The government said drug dealing made up nearly all of Silk Road’s sales during its nearly three years in business, which ended with Ulbricht’s October 2013 arrest.
Prosecutors said Ulbricht enabled more than 1 million drug deals on Silk Road and earned about $18 million in bitcoins by connecting dealers with customers they could never find on the street. Sales of illegal drugs of every type were delivered through the website, representing at least $180 million in sales, they said.
The government said the fallacy of Ulbricht’s promise of anonymity in the dark corners of the Internet as a reason for customers to peddle their illegal merchandise online was exposed by numerous trial witnesses, including the first: Homeland Security Agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan.
He testified that shipments originating on the website first came to his attention in June 2011 when X-rays and canine detection dogs at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport turned up envelopes from the Netherlands containing Ecstasy pills wrapped in vacuum seal and foil. Soon, the drugs were being sent through many countries.
By late September, Der-Yeghiayan said he learned about Silk Road and began infiltrating it, taking over staff member accounts each time one was arrested or agreed to cooperate.