NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The Internet entrepreneur accused of being the mastermind behind an online marketplace for illegal drug sales called the Silk Road was scheduled Friday to go on trial in November.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest set the Nov. 3 date as 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht pleaded not guilty to four charges in a rewritten indictment returned earlier this week.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, Ulbricht is charged with deliberately operating Silk Road as an online criminal marketplace designed to use a Bitcoin-based payment system to conceal the identities and location of users.
He was accused of drug trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering and running a continuing criminal conspiracy for his role in operating the black market site.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Serrin Turner said the government may bring additional charges before trial, and Forrest told him to file any superseding indictment by March 31. He said the government would present its “voluminous” evidence to a jury in less than a month once the trial begins.
Prosecutors say Ulbricht went by the online handle the Dread Pirate Roberts, an apparent reference to a character in “The Princess Bride,” and turned the underground site into a place where anonymous users could buy or sell contraband and illegal services.
Authorities say Silk Road, which had nearly a million registered users by July, generated more than $1 billion in illicit business from January 2011 through September. The website used Bitcoin, the tough-to-track digital currency, before it was shut down.
Federal prosecuters say 100,000 users were involved in buying and selling illegal drugs anonymously on the website beyond the reach of the law.
Other illegal services offered by Silk Road included computer hacking and forgeries, Cornell reported.
Prosecutors said Ulbricht used the website to solicit six murders for hire, though there’s no evidence they were actually carried out, Cornell reported.
Ulbricht was arrested last year at a public library in San Francisco, where he lived. He remains incarcerated without bail.
During his court appearance Friday, Ulbricht stood in his prison blue uniform with his hands clasped behind his back, answering “not guilty” each time Forrest read aloud a charge against him.
His lawyer, Joshua Dratel, said he would be filing motions to challenge the charges.
Federal investigators say Silk Road users anonymously browsed through nearly 13,000 listings under such categories as cannabis, psychedelics and stimulants. Authorities said many of the transactions were illicit.
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