A San Francisco man isn't the "Dread Pirate Roberts'' who prosecutors say was the mastermind behind a secret website that brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services, a defense attorney said Wednesday.
Ross William Ulbricht is "not that person,'' the lawyer, Josh Dratel, told reporters following his client's first court appearance in New York City. "He's a regular person, a loyal friend ... someone who has never been in trouble,'' Dratel added. "We're denying the charges against him.''
Ulbricht, 29, was arrested early last month on federal charges in New York. He is accused of hiding behind the "Dread Pirate Roberts'' alias -- an apparent reference to a swashbuckling character in "The Princess Bride,'' the 1987 comedy film based on a novel of the same name -- while operating the Silk Road website.
Authorities brought Ulbricht to New York City on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the lanky, dark-haired defendant spoke only to answer to a few yes or no questions before a judge ordered him held until his next hearing on Nov. 21, when his lawyer is expected to ask for him to be released for bail.
The Silk Road website allowed users to anonymously browse through nearly 13,000 listings under categories like "Cannabis,'' "Psychedelics'' and "Stimulants'' before making purchases using the electronic currency Bitcoin. One listing for heroin promised buyers "all rock, no powder, vacuum sealed and stealth shipping,'' and had a community forum below where one person commented, "Quality is superb.''
The website, whose other categories included "Erotica'' and "Fireworks,'' protected users with an encryption technique called onion routing, designed to make it "practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites on the network,'' court papers said.
On Oct. 1, authorities shut the site down and arrested the college-educated Ulbricht at a San Francisco public library. Ulbricht was online on his laptop chatting with a cooperating witness about Silk Road when FBI agents took him into custody, authorities said.
Prosecutors announced earlier this month that they had seized about 174,000 Bitcoins in connection with the Silk Road case, valued at more than $33.6 million.
Since Ulbricht's arrest, a new website has been established to help fund his defense. It accepts donations in Bitcoins.