NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. prosecutor sought on Tuesday to dissuade jurors from believing that the man who created the underground website Silk Road and is facing drug trafficking charges abandoned the venture long before it was shut down.
Ross Ulbricht, who is on trial in Manhattan federal court, has acknowledged creating Silk Road, where drugs and other goods could be bought with bitcoins. But his lawyer said he sold the website and was the victim of a set-up by its actual operator.
During closing arguments, a prosecutor called that claim “absurd” in light of the “mountain of evidence” seized from Silk Road servers and Ulbricht’s laptop showing he ran the website from start to finish, using the alias Dread Pirate Roberts.
“He built it, he grew it, he operated it from start to bottom until the end, when he was arrested logged into the website as its mastermind,” said the prosecutor, Serrin Turner.
But Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht’s lawyer, said files linking the defendant to the website were planted through hacking by the real Dread Pirate Roberts, who lured him back in at the end.
“It was easy to reconstruct this in a way that would frame Mr. Ulbricht,” Dratel said.
Silk Road operated from at least January 2011 until October 2013, when authorities seized it and arrested Ulbricht.
By that time, Silk Road had generated nearly $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commissions, prosecutors said.
Ulbricht, 30, faces seven criminal counts, including narcotics trafficking conspiracy, for his role in building what Turner called “an online storefront for drug dealers.”
Turner said the Dread Pirate Roberts alias, borrowed from a character in the 1987 movie “The Princess Bride,” was a “bogus cover story” that suggested the name could be passed to others as in the film.
“The defendant is trying to dust off the old ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ flag and fly it one more time - before you, ladies and gentlemen,” Turner told jurors.
Dratel, in contrast, pointed to a friend’s testimony that Ulbricht in November 2011 claimed to have sold Silk Road. Changes to the website showed it was run by someone else as Dread Pirate Roberts, Dratel said.
The lawyer said someone then created fake files sprinkled with details about Ulbricht’s real life that could be found easily on websites such as Facebook, as authorities zeroed in.
Jury deliberations are expected to begin on Wednesday.
The case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-06919.
Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Dan Grebler