Alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht has suffered a setback in his efforts to fight federal narcotics and money laundering charges after a US court rejected his bid to dismiss the suit.
Ulbricht’s lawyer originally sought to dismiss the charges in late March, citing flaws in the legal definition of money laundering. As well, the dismissal filing challenged allegations that Ulbricht directly conspired with Silk Road users.
On 9th July, US District Judge Katherine Forrest rejected the defendant’s claims regarding the validity of the charges, saying that there are sufficient grounds for Ulbricht to be prosecuted based on the government's case. According to court documents, the court dismissed Ulbricht’s claims that bitcoin does not fall within money laundering laws.
“Bitcoins carry value - that is their purpose and function - and act as a medium of exchange. Bitcoins may be exchanged for legal tender, be it US dollars, euros, or some other currency. Accordingly, [the defense’s] argument fails.”
She also wrote in her decision that prosecutors have cause to prove Ulbricht acted as the ringleader of Silk Road, saying that “whether the government can prove the facts alleged is not a question at this stage.”
Judge rejects defense arguments
Ulbricht’s defense countered the suit’s money laundering and narcotics charges, outlining a number of questions that sought to cast doubt on the validity of the prosecution’s case.
Among the challenges, the defense argued in court documents that Ulbrich did not act in a managerial capacity within the Silk Road community and that the evidence does not support these claims. Forrest disagreed, saying that the allegations were appropriate as written.
When challenging the argument that bitcoin doesn’t fall under the definition of legal money, Forrest stated that the technological usage of bitcoins make them a medium of exchange, saying that the broad legal boundaries money laundering laws operate within can be interpreted to include digital currencies.
“There is no doubt that if a narcotics transaction was paid for in cash, which was later exchanged for gold, then converted back to cash, that would constitute a money laundering transaction. One can launder money using bitcoin.”
Trial set for November start
With the motion to dismiss all charges rejected, the case is now expected to move to trial with a 3rd November start date. Ulbricht, who has plead not guilty, faces life behind bars for charges that also include computer hacking and continued criminal enterprise, the latter of which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years alone.
His defense will focus on a series of points, including the argument that Silk Road, like other e-commerce sites, should not be held responsible for illegal activities perpetrated on the platform. Ulbricht's family told CoinDesk in an April interview that the government has overreached in its case by misusing legal language to attack the alleged Silk Road operator.
Since Ulbricht was first arrested and charged in connection with Silk Road, efforts began to fund his defense.
A recent Twitter post by bitcoin magnate Roger Ver netted nearly 17,000 retweets, with Ver promising to donate $10 for each one. Ulbricht's mother, Lyn, recently told CoinDesk that the family has had some success in raising funds in the past few months.