MANHATTAN (CN) - Dressed in a blue prison uniform, Michael Duch told a federal jury hearing the Silk Road case that he earned $75,000 a year with his own computer consultant business and had kicked a painkiller addiction that he picked up from a sports injury three years ago.
Then in 2012, Duch fell off the wagon and turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative to the prescription medications. He used Silk Road to fuel his addiction under the username "deezletime," he told a federal jury on Wednesday.
Growing his customer base within six weeks, Duch said he made as much as $70,000 per month and ultimately sold more than 31,000 bags of heroin across the United States before his arrest the same month as Silk Road's alleged leader.
Prosecutors called Duch, 40, as a cooperating witness to prove that Silk Road was not, as its defenders contend, a service provider playing a passive role in anonymous sales, but a participant in an international drug conspiracy.
Duch testified that he never met Silk Road's leader Dread Pirate Roberts, whom prosecutors allege to be Ross Ulbricht, a 30-year-old former Eagle Scout from Texas.
Nevertheless, Ulbricht's accused of conspiring with Duch and thousands of other anonymous vendors whom he offered online security, privacy, training and a thriving customer base in return for a small transaction fee.
Silk Road's "perceived level of safety and anonymity" drew Duch to the service, he testified.
"I had an addiction I needed to feed," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Serrin Turner showed Duch the seller's contract obligating vendors to protect their customers' anonymity, and instructions for stealth shipping methods to avoid law enforcement detection on the Silk Road site.
Advertising "East Coast Style" heroin by the "stamp" (10 mg each) or "brick" (50 bags), "deezletime" promised same-day shipping for users who needed heroin quickly to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Some of his clientele's urgent messages were entered into evidence.
"[I] am EXTREMELY dope sick, and NEED something by tomorrow!" one message said.
Another buyer complained about "throwing up."
When asked if such emails were typical, Duch said: "Yes, I received those messages every day."
Duch testified that he learned through Silk Road how to use moisture barrier bags to evade the scent of drug-sniffing dogs, and used fake return addresses on his shipments.
One of his packages had an eBay-affiliated address from Wayne, N.J., he said.
Although "deezletime" also advertised on competitors BMR and Atlantis, Duch said that Silk Road was by far the largest vendor and accounted for more than 99 percent of his sales.
Duch said that he resold the heroin that he bought from a street dealer in Passaic, N.J. at a 100 percent markup to customers who did not have such ready access.
"From what I understood, the heroin was not available from the geographic regions all over the United States," he said.
A spreadsheet of the cities where he shipped to spanned 15 pages, and included cities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, jurors saw.
Duch's cooperation agreement with the government allows him to possibly escape a 5-year minimum, 40-year maximum sentence for his prolific heroin sales.
Ulbricht's lawyer, Joshua Dratel, pointed out at the start of cross-examination that Duch could have faced a possible life sentence if he did not testify against Ulbricht.
"It's something they're holding over your head, right?" Dratel asked.
"It's never been mentioned," Duch insisted.
Under the cooperation agreement, prosecutors agreed not to charge Duch with the theft, purchase or use of other drugs; stealing from his father and Walmart; and throwing a telephone at his girlfriend.
Duch acknowledged that he used heroin "four to five" times a day at dosages that last up to six hours.
Trying to undermine the credibility of the witness, Dratel asked: "So, you were high all the time, right?"
"I used heroin on a daily basis," Duch replied.
Duch's cross-examination continues on Thursday morning.
Earlier on Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security agent Dylan Critten testified that he confronted Ulbricht about his office intercepting nine fake IDs - for six U.S. states and three countries - sent to the 30-year-old's home in July 2013.
All of the IDs had one of two pictures of Ulbricht, with and without a beard, and Ulbricht's actual birthdate of March 27, 1984.
At the time, Ulbricht lived in San Francisco with two roommates who thought his name was Josh.
Critten said that he immediately recognized Ulbricht as the suspect approached the glass door in front of his house.
Ulbricht had not yet been identified as a suspect in the Silk Road case, Critten said.
In fact, Critten testified that he told Ulbricht - truthfully - that Homeland Security only wanted to interview him to learn the identity of who made the IDs.
"I observed that he became visibly nervous," Critten said.
Ulbricht refused to incriminate himself about ordering the IDs, but he told the agent that it "hypothetically" would have been possible to acquire the documents "over the Tor browser" through a website called Silk Road, Critten said.
The agent testified that it was the firm time he had heard of the site.
Ulbricht was arrested in San Francisco's Glen Park Library months later, on Oct. 1, 2013.
The prosecution's case is expected to wrap up by Monday, and the defense's case may conclude by the middle of next week. Ulbricht has not yet decided whether to testify on his own behalf.
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