Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind of the $1.2 billion online “black-market bazaar” known as Silk Road, attempted to arrange the murders of at least six people including a worker he believed had stolen $350,000 in bitcoins from him, the U.S. said.
While the murder-for-hire plots aren’t part of the government’s indictment of Ulbricht, federal prosecutors in New York are seeking to use them as evidence against him at his trial set to begin Jan. 5. The alleged schemes support the government’s argument that Ulbricht conspired to protect the criminal enterprise, prosecutors said yesterday in a court filing.
The evidence collected by U.S. investigators includes electronic communications retrieved from Ulbricht’s laptop computer, according to the filing. The topics include the suspected theft of the digital currency used on Silk Road.
“Ulbricht solicited these murders for hire as part of his role as owner and operator of Silk Road, to retaliate against a former staff member who he believed had stolen bitcoins from the site and who he feared would provide information about the site,” said assistant U.S. attorneys Serrin Turner and Timothy Howard.
In messages discussing the possible murder of the employee in January and February 2013, Ulbricht said he sought “muscle” to “get to him quickly.” Prosecutors said that Ulbricht asked in an online chat, “At what point do we terminate him?” and spoke of the murder scheme in several conversations. A witness who is cooperating with the government has agreed to testify about the murder scheme, the U.S. said.
Ulbricht is charged with a murder-for-hire scheme in a separate case in federal court in Baltimore.
Joshua Dratel, a lawyer for Ulbricht, declined to immediately comment on the government’s request.
Ulbricht also solicited the murder of a Silk Road vendor called “Friendly Chemist” who threatened to blackmail him by disclosing the identities of some of Silk Road’s vendors and customers. That person asked Ulbricht to pay $500,000 or he would publish the information, prosecutors said.
“In my eyes, Friendly Chemist is a liability and I wouldn’t mind if he was executed,” prosecutors said Ulbricht wrote in one e-mail.
The criminal case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 14-cr-00068, and a related civil forfeiture case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 13-cv-06919, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan) The murder-for-hire case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 13-00222, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Baltimore).