Friend of Silk Road creator details early days of the site

Richard Bates testified that he helped Ross Ulbricht troubleshoot the site, which later became an online marketplace for illegal products

A college friend of Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road online exchange, testified on Thursday that he helped Ulbricht troubleshoot the site in its early days, providing more ammunition for federal prosecutors to make the case Ulbricht was the mastermind behind the notorious illegal goods marketplace.

The testimony from Richard Bates could help federal prosecutors establish a timeline showing Ulbricht was heavily involved with the site beyond just creating it.

Ulbricht has admitted to creating the Silk Road site in early 2011. According to prosecutors, it would be used to facilitate the exchange of $1.2 billion in illegal goods, mostly drugs.

Ulbricht's defense lawyer, Joshua Dratel, argues that Ulbricht started the site only as "an experiment" and handed off the site to other operators shortly after he started it. He rejoined immediately prior to his arrest, lured back in by the new operators to serve as a fall guy, according to Dratel.

Prosecutors need to convince the jury that Ulbricht was involved in Silk Road through much of its existence.

Bates' testimony -- given in exchange for immunity from prosecution in technically abetting Silk Road -- could help prosecutors in that it established that Ulbricht was involved in the site at least through the summer of 2011, after its usage started to grow dramatically.

Bates testified that he met Ulbricht while both were in college at University of Texas at Dallas. Bates and Ulbricht rekindled the friendship in 2010 when Bates moved to Austin, where Ulbricht lived at the time.

Through the end of 2010, Ulbricht had asked Bates, a software engineer, many questions about programming. When Bates asked why Ulbricht needed this information, he said it was for a "top secret project." Over time, the questions became more technical, and in February of 2011 Bates, afraid Ulbricht was hacking Web servers, issued Ulbricht an ultimatum: reveal the project or no more answers would be forthcoming.

It was then Ulbricht disclosed the existence of Silk Road, and what he did. He asked Bates to keep it a secret from everyone that it was run by Ulbricht. "You gotta keep my secret, buddy," Ulbricht wrote to Bates on Google Chat.

Bates would continue to periodically aid Ulbricht for the following few months, mostly over Google Chat. In March, Bates helped Ulbricht troubleshoot the site when the database stopped working from too many open connections. Ulbricht also shared with Bates his successes with the site, boasting about the media coverage the site had gotten.

Bates' testimony will continue through Thursday, and he will be cross-examined by Dratel.

Dratel has shown himself to be aggressive in cross-examination, working to plant doubts among jury members about conclusions that can be drawn from the prosecution's evidence.

Earlier Thursday, Dratel was reprimanded by District Judge Katherine Forrest when questioning the previous witness, FBI computer forensic scientist Thomas Kiernan, for going outside the acceptable scope of questions that can be asked in cross-examination.

Kiernan had testified about what he had found on Ulbricht's laptop at the time of Ulbricht's arrest. The laptop included a copy of the Silk Road website, including a number of PHP scripting files.

At one point, Dratel asked Kiernan about what a particular piece of PHP code did. At this point, Forrest immediately called a jury break, and sharply told Dratel that he could only question Kiernan about how he had retrieved the files and what he found on the files.

He could not use Kiernan as his own computer expert, she said. Dratel argued that Kiernan was called as a witness because Kiernan had examined the contents of the machine, so asking about the source code of a Silk Road PHP file on that machine was fair game.

Texas resident Ulbricht was indicted last February, after being arrested in October 2013 in California. At the time of his arrest, Ulbricht was charged with narcotics conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering. Both the charges of narcotics and engaging in a criminal enterprise have maximum penalties of lifetime imprisonment.

The case is being tried at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Criminallegalsilk road

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?