Ross Ulbricht's Attorney Cites IRS Guidance in Motion to Dismiss Charges

An attorney defending alleged Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht has moved to dismiss certain charges, citing new IRS guidance.

AccessTimeIconApr 1, 2014 at 8:35 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 3:02 a.m. UTC

An attorney representing alleged Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht has asked that a federal judge dismiss four charges against his client as part of his ongoing New York indictment.

In a 64-page filing submitted to the District Court of the Southern District of New York this weekend, Ulbricht's defence attorney, Joshua Dratel, argues that one count of money laundering, running a criminal enterprise, narcotics conspiracy and conspiracy to commit computer hacking be dismissed, stating that they are vague and do not cover his client's alleged conduct.

Perhaps most interestingly, Dratel took issue with the money laundering charge, adopting the position that bitcoin does not qualify as a money instrument under the law, due in part to the wording used in formal FinCEN and IRS guidance on the issue.

Read the filing:

"Count Four, which alleges money laundering, is defective because it fails to allege sufficiently an essential element of the offense – that Mr. Ulbricht engaged in, or conspired to engage in, “financial transactions” - as Bitcoin, the alleged “payment system that served to facilitate the illegal commerce conducted on the site,” does not constitute either “funds” or a “monetary instrument, either of which is a necessary component of “financial transaction."

Were Ulbricht and his attorney to win this motion, the report suggests he would still face criminal charges in Maryland relating to a separate federal indictment.

Recent IRS ruling plays key role

In his motion, Dratel made the case that money laundering is clearly limited to the use of certain money instruments, of which bitcoin is not named.

Further, he pointed to last week's ruling by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which ruled that bitcoin should be treated as property and, not a currency, as added evidence that the charges listed against Ulbricht don't fit his alleged crimes.

According to a Wired report, the charges listed by Dratel represent most of those filed against him in New York. The 30-year-old Ulbricht was indicted earlier this February, and eventually entered a plea of not guilty to the charges.

Silk Road case continues

The filing marks the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Silk Road, which has spawned a variety of cases, including those by the site's supposedly legitimate sellers.

Started in 2011 with the intent to become a kind of anonymous, Silk Road quickly captured the public's imagination as an illicit underground marketplace. Following the arrest of Ulbricht in connection with the case in October, the case itself quickly became the focal point of those who feared Silk Road would be used by the government to pass restrictive regulations on the new digital currency technology.

Despite these concerns, however, governments have increasingly warmed to the idea of digital currencies, with New York most recently opening applications for regulated bitcoin exchanges it expects to be in operation by the end of this year.

For more on the latest filing in the case, read the text in full below:

Gavel image via Shutterstock


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