Science & Technology

Silk Road Trial: Friend of Ross Ulbricht's Testifies that Ulbricht Confessed His Silk Road Role


Ross Ulbricht's attorney Joshua Dratel admitted last week that his client did found the Silk Road website, but is nonetheless not the "Dread Pirate Roberts" still running it at the time Ulbricht was arrested and thus not the man who should be found guilty under this indictment.

Today in court a friend of Ulbricht's named Richard Bates testified that Ulbricht admitted the same to him. From a Daily Dot report:

When Bates, a programmer at eBay, moved to Austin in 2010, Ulbricht began to ask him a torrent of programming questions. It came to the point where Bates refused to answer anymore until Ulbricht revealed why he was asking.

"I was suspicious he might be hacking into a website or something," Bates said.

So in February 2011, just after Silk Road launched, Ulbricht told him everything.

"I remember seeing the home page. I saw the green camel for the first time and pictures of drugs," Bates said.

Bates was a recreational drug user himself, although he says he stopped in the summer of 2013. He smoked marijuana, ate psychedelic mushrooms, and took Vicodin, among other illegal substances. In 2011, he began to buy most drugs off of Silk Road..

When Ulbricht was arrested in 2013, police quickly found a long list of GChats between the suspect and Bates. It was clear that Bates provided tech support to Ulbricht both before he knew about Silk Road and for some time afterwards. Bates's testimony is ongoing, and it's not yet clear how long and how deeply he aided the site.

"What did you do when police approached you outside your apartment?" the prosecutors asked.

"I lied to them," Bates said, his head hanging down low. "I said I didn't know Ross ran Silk Road. I was scared."

In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, Bates is now testifying in order to avoid charges for the drugs he purchased on Silk Road under then name Melee, the tech assistance he provided and, he said, a Bitcoin exchange he was building with Ulbricht.

I confess it isn't clear to me how admitting founding Silk Road, a site that from its beginning facilitated the anonymous purchase of illegal goods, isn't tantamount to a guilty plea; I've asked Dratel via email and received no response yet.

In reverse order, my previous Silk Road trialblogging here, here, and here, and my December print feature on the site and the arrest and prosecution of Ulbricht.