MANHATTAN (CN) - Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is not charged with murder-for-hire in his New York trial, but federal prosecutors have long accused him of hiring a hit-man to kill those who threatened his underground online drug empire.
Minutes before the second week of Ulbricht's trial ended on Thursday, a jury saw email records supporting this allegation.
In dozens of frenzied pages, Silk Road's leader Dread Pirate Roberts - known by his initials DPR - corresponds with a vendor named "FriendlyChemist," who threatens to expose the real-life identities of "dozens of top vendors" and "thousands" of customers.
The subject line of the email screams: "VERY IMPORTANT," in block capital letters.
In the message, FriendlyChemist claims to have been scammed out of $700,000 by a top vendor named "LucyDrop," and says that he fears for his and his families' lives if he does not get his money back.
A user named "RealLucyDrop," meanwhile, posted on Silk Road's forum that somebody had hijacked his account and conned his customers. RealLucyDrop later described FriendlyChemist as a "middleman to one of our thousand distributors" in a message to Dread Pirate Roberts.
Silk Road's leader demanded the unmasking FriendlyChemist in a March 17, 2013 reply.
"I need his real world identity, so I can threaten real world violence," wrote DPR, whom prosecutors believe to be Ulbricht.
Saying that the threat would only send the blackmailer to the police, RealLucyDrop avoided sending information for more than a week. But DPR persisted that he needed to know FriendlyChemist's true identity for "leverage."
"I'm not fronting money to anyone, and I won't be blackmailed," DPR wrote.
Another user, "redandwhite," entered the fray purporting to represent a Hells Angels-linked drug organization that is owed FriendlyChemist's debt, and claimed to have a "majority hold over most of the movement of products in western Canada."
Putting business first, DPR wrote, "I would like you to consider being a vendor." He then turned to the matter at hand.
"In my eyes, FriendlyChemist is a liability and I wouldn't mind if he was [sic] executed, but then you'd be out of $700,000," DPR wrote.
DPR identified FriendlyChemist in another message as a 34-year-old British Columbia resident named Blake Krokoff, who has a wife and three kids.
FBI contractor Brian Shaw, who authenticated the correspondence into evidence, told a jury that the identical information had been found on a laptop seized at the time of Ulbricht's arrest.
Earlier on the day of Ulbricht's arrest, ex-FBI agent Ilhwan Yum, now a contractor at FTI Consulting, traced more than 700,000 Bitcoins found on Ulbricht's laptop to Silk Road transactions.
In U.S. dollars, that amount of the cryptographic, online currency is worth more than $13.3 million, he estimated.
Ulbricht's lawyers assert that their client had been "set up" by the "real" Dread Pirate Roberts, who supposedly planted incriminating evidence on his computer when it was left vulnerable.
The defense will likely start calling witnesses on Monday, after the government's case wraps up.
Defense attorney Joshua Dratel previewed that he planned to call two expert witnesses, including a computer scientist as an authority on Bitcoins, the currency used for all Silk Road transactions.
These experts must first overcome the government's objections regarding their qualifications and the relevance of their testimony before taking the stand.
Dratel's colleague, Lindsay Lewis, predicted that about a "half-dozen" fact and character witnesses would vouch for Ulbricht, a former Eagle Scout from Texas.
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