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Federal prosecutors say Ulbricht commissioned six murders for hire

HomicideSilk RoadJustice SystemFBI

Ross Ulbricht commissioned no fewer than six murders for hire earlier this year to protect his position as the operator of the sprawling online drug market Silk Road, according to federal prosecutors.

The new accusations come as the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York prepares to argue before a judge this morning that Ulbricht should be denied bail. Two murder for hire plots authorities say Ulbricht put into motion were detailed in the charges against him, and the four new attempts are described in a filing federal prosecutors provided to the Baltimore Sun.

Ulbricht is accused of running Silk Road over the course of more than two years and building it into the most popular place to buy drugs online. Buyers and sellers used sophisticated technology to mask their identities, but authorities say they were able to unmask Ulbricht through a combination of undercover work and online sleuthing.

Ulbricht, who allegedly used the name Dread Pirate Roberts on Silk Road, is accused of hiring a user known as redandwhite -- a reference to the Hell's Angels, according to the government -- to kill a supposed Canadian citizen who was blackmailing him. The FBI and Canadian authorities could find no evidence that the victim actually existed but redandwhite told Ulbricht that the victim had named a Silk Road user called tony76 involved in the blackmail plot. 

The user lived with three other people and Ulbricht eventually agreed to pay redandwhite to have them all killed, according to the court filing. But as with the previous plot, authorities could find no evidence that it was actually carried out. 

Nevertheless, federal prosecutors argue that Ulbricht's apparent willingness to pay for killings means he should be held in jail.

"Ulbricht should be detained as a danger to the community," assistant U.S attorney Serrin Turner wrote. "Given his willingness to pay approximately $730,000 for attempts to kill six people, there is no reason to believe that he would not again resort to violence in order to protect himself, whether through intimidating witnesses, recovering proceeds of his criminal activity, or otherwise.

Prosecutors also say Ulbricht was exploring becoming a citizen of a number of Caribbean countries, including Dominica, and had attempted to obtain fake identity documents this summer. Those documents were intercepted and seized by customs agents.

In a letter, Ulbricht's attorney argued earlier this week that he does not present a risk if he is set free while the case against him is pending. Joshua Dratel, the attorney, wrote that Ulbricht has strong ties to the United States and his family and would be unlikely to flee. Ulbricht's supporters had pledged $1 million to post as a bond on his behalf, according to Dratel.

But Turner wrote that Ulbricht was skilled at leading a double life, even with the people closest to him.

"While portraying himself as a champion of 'freedom' on the Silk Road website, opposed to the use of any kind of 'force' against others, he was in fact a quite ruthless criminal. Turner wrote, "one who, with seeming ease and lack of conscience, nonchalantly ordered murders for hire amidst fixing server bugs and answering customer support tickets."

iduncan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/iduncan

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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HomicideSilk RoadJustice SystemFBI
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