Ross Ulbricht is facing life in prison if he is convicted on seven felony charges connected with the website Silk Road.
The site was used by people to buy and sell illegal drugs from 2011 until 2013.
FBI agents claim that when they arrested Ulbricht in October 2013 at a library in San Francisco, California, he was logged into Silk Road and having a conversation with an undercover agent, noted The New York Times.
The U.S. government's charges against Ulbricht include drug trafficking, distribution of drugs via the web, hacking, money laundering and fraud.
According to The Daily Dot, Ulbricht's defense lawyer Joshua Dratel stated in court today that Ulbricht "did invent the Silk Road" in January 2011, but found it was “too stressful after a few months, and he handed off to others.”
Dratel claimed that Ulbricht was tricked into rejoining Silk Road before the FBI arrested him.
Dratel added that Ulbricht never used the handle "Dread Pirate Roberts," which was the pseudonym of the website's administrator. Dratel told the court that Ulbricht didn't live a lifestyle of someone who allegedly made millions of dollars through commissions of illegal drug sales on Silk Road's black market.
The U.S. government claims that Silk Road made $80 million in commissions by October 2013 when it was shut down.
Another part of Ulbricht's defense is that a person claiming to be "Dread Pirate Roberts" told Forbes in August 2013:
"I didn’t start the Silk Road, my predecessor did. From what I understand, it was an original idea to combine Bitcoin and Tor to create an anonymous market. Everything was in place, he just put the pieces together. He was well compensated and happy with our arrangement. It was his idea to pass the torch in fact. We met through the site. I had discovered a big vulnerability in the way he had configured the main Bitcoin wallet that was being used to process all of the deposits and withdrawals on the site. At first he ignored me, but I persisted and gained his trust by helping him secure the wallet. From there we became close friends working on Silk Road together."
However, prosecutor Timothy Howard claimed today that Ulbricht made $18 million and was "like any other drug boss."
Dratel claimed that money-laundering requires a “financial transaction” to be carried out with “funds” or “monetary instruments,” but added that Silk Road operated via Bitcoin, an Internet currency not recognized by the IRS.
Ulbricht has his supporters. There is a Facebook page and a video (below) created by his friends.
Reuters reports there were protesters outside the Manhattan federal court today holding signs that read, "30 years to life for an honest website?" and "Web hosting is not a crime!"