Six weeks after Ross Ulbricht was arrested for running the Silk Road drug market, someone logged in as 'Dread Pirate Roberts.'
Ross Ulbricht in prison. Image: FreeRoss.org
Attorneys for Ross Ulbricht, the man convicted of running the Silk Road online drug marketplace under the pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts" say they've discovered evidence that someone logged into the Dread Pirate Roberts account on the Silk Road forums six weeks after Ulbricht was arrested. Ulbricht was in federal custody at the time.
If this piece of evidence is authentic, the logical conclusion is that someone else had access to the account that was said to belong to the mastermind of the massive Dark Web drug bazaar. Given the login occurred after the principal arrest in the Silk Road investigation, it may also indicate that whoever did it was someone with a law enforcement background, had access to the investigation, or was "another" Dread Pirate Roberts.
Ulbricht is serving a life sentence for his role in operating the dark web marketplace. Earlier this week, Ulbricht's defense attorney Joshua Dratel filed a letter with the US attorney's office in Maryland, where Ulbricht still has a case pending, alleging that the defense team had found separate evidence of another corrupt law enforcement official involved in the Silk Road investigation (two law enforcement agents, a Drug Enforcement Agent and Secret Service agent "broke bad" and were previously convicted for various crimes, including attempting to steal Bitcoin evidence during the investigation).
"We don't know when that person or persons originally gained access, or how many times they logged into Silk Road as DPR. We don't know how many DPRs there were."
The bulk of Dratel's letter says that a still-unknown government official sold information about the investigation to Dread Pirate Roberts and later deleted evidence of the arrangement. But the letter—portions of which have been described to Motherboard, but which has not been released publicly—also notes that an unknown person logged into the Dread Pirate Roberts account after it's supposed owner was taken into custody.
Ulbricht was arrested on October 2, 2013. The Silk Road marketplace was taken down that same day, but the forums stayed up until November 22. His attorneys say that someone logged into the DPR account on the forum November 18.
These new details were uncovered by forensic analysts who studied backups of the Silk Road forums that were entered as evidence by the government during Ulbricht's first trial. Ulbricht's attorneys Dratel and Lindsay Lewis say that government tampering calls into question the evidence used to convict Ulbricht.
"The importance of the access issue is amplified by the fact that the timestamp for the last log-in by DPR on the SR Forum is November 18, 2013—a full six weeks after Mr. Ulbricht's arrest," Lewis told me in an emailed statement. "Thus, obviously someone other than Mr. Ulbricht was continuing to log in to SR as DPR."
Lewis said this piece of evidence wasn't brought up during a press conference earlier this week because the defense was "focused more on the evidence of tampering. Obviously, this is a significant bit as well."
That there could be more than one person using the Dread Pirate Roberts account has been a popular theory among people who have paid close attention to the Silk Road case. At trial, Dratel said Ulbricht was framed by the "real" DPR.
Dratel and Lewis would not provide additional information about their findings; the letter sent to the US attorney in Maryland is aimed at pushing prosecutors there to open a discovery process that will presumably make more specifics about the evidence public.
It's unknown whether other Silk Road administrators had the username and password for the DPR account, whether there actually were other "real" DPRs, or whether government officials were somehow able to get the DPR login credentials.
"They had access only to Ross's laptop," Lewis told me. "I don't think they had access to the login credentials."
At a press conference in Manhattan Tuesday, Dratel said the new evidence disclosed this week wasn't brought at trial in New York because his team didn't have enough time to fully analyze the data the government presented.
"We got six terabytes of information, and they were was no real way we could review all of that data in the time period allowed before trial," he said.
Ross's mother, Lyn Ulbricht, said the new discoveries further call into question the evidence used to put her son away.
"There is a record in the database for every account, showing the most recent log-in. We don't know when that person or persons originally gained access, or how many times they logged into Silk Road as DPR. We don't know how many DPRs there were," Lyn Ulbricht told me in an email. "It's the nature of digital evidence that it's easily changed, planted or deleted without a trace. That my son—or anyone—would get a life sentence without parole based on vulnerable digital evidence, especially when it's been corrupted, is a travesty of justice."