A U.S. federal judge has rejected convicted Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht's request for a new trial, despite his attorneys' claims of inappropriate conduct on the part of government agents and prosecutors.
"The evidence of Ulbricht's guilt was, in all respects, overwhelming," an unsympathetic District Judge Katherine Forrest wrote in a Monday ruling. "It went unrebutted" she said.
Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht's lead attorney, argued that the reason his defense was so lacking was because the government had left him with no time to adequately prepare. While this was somewhat true, given the massive resources the federal government threw at the case, it is only part of the issue.
Dratel was left scrambling to come up with a new strategy after the court rejected his original line of argument, which contributed hugely to the poor defense.
Dratel spent the initial phase of Ulbricht's trial trying to construct a tenuous defense in which he claimed Ulbricht, 30, was just a fall guy for shadowy third parties. The true mastermind behind Silk Road, he alleged, was defunct bitcoin exchange Mt Gox founder Mark Karpeles. Karpeles could well be behind Silk Road, given he profited hugely from it and appears to be one of the largest fraudsters in modern times. His exchange has filed for bankruptcy with hundreds of millions of dollars 'missing'.
Prosecutors objected to the fall guy tactic midway into Dratel's presentation, arguing that it relied on testimony that amounted to "hearsay" and "hunches," rather than witnesses' testimony. Judge Forrest agreed and ruled all such testimony inadmissible.
Ulbricht will now spend the rest of his life in prison, in a sentence that has been widely criticized and highly politicized. The message is clear: the feds hate drugs and anyone who dares market them online will face penalties well in excess of normal, and already overly harsh, drug laws.