The man accused of donning the mantle of the “Dread Pirate Roberts” to run the Silk Road online black market bazaar pleaded not guilty on Friday to drug and money laundering charges.
US District Judge Katherine Forrest set a trial date of Nov. 3 for 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, in a New York case that has opened a window onto the shadowy world of online crime.
Authorities claim Ulbricht is the infamous “Roberts,” mastermind of an encrypted online network that allegedly sought to sell illicit items including drugs, hacker tools and even assassinations.
Ulbricht’s attorney Joshua Dratel said he is considering a request for bail, but will study the case before proceeding. Prosecutors have previously said they would oppose bail.
Most of Friday’s hearing focused on the logistics of a handoff of computer data and other evidence that will be turned over to Ulbricht’s counsel as he prepares his defense.
Ulbricht, wearing a blue prison uniform, smiled at family a couple of times after being led into the courtroom by guards. He appeared calm throughout a 25-minute hearing.
The government arrested Ulbricht in October last year on a criminal complaint accusing him of drug trafficking and related offenses.
An indictment unsealed on Tuesday charged him with money laundering, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and running a criminal enterprise, which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years.
It includes an allegation that Ulbricht “solicited a Silk Road user to execute a murder-for-hire of another Silk Road user, who was threatening to release the identity of thousands of users of the site.”
Assistant US Attorney Serrin Turner said the investigation into Silk Road is ongoing and more charges could be added against Ulbricht.
Family and friends of Ulbricht have stood by the defendant, setting up a “Free Ross” Web site to raise funds for his legal defense.
A minute-and-a-half video includes testimonials of friends and family as to Ulbricht’s gentle and generous character.
Yet government prosecutors have presented a very different picture of Ulbricht, in an indictment dubbing him the brains behind “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet.”
Silk Road sold illegal goods to “well over a hundred thousand buyers worldwide,” the indictment said.
Ulbricht is said to have pocketed commissions worth “tens of millions of dollars” from the illicit sales.
As part of the operation, US authorities seized a large cache of bitcoins, a virtual currency used in Silk Road transactions.
Prosecutors say they seized 173,991 bitcoins, worth over US$150 million at present exchange rates.
Three others have been charged in connection with the operation of Silk Road.