NEW YORK, N.Y. – Lawyers for a San Francisco man charged with operating an online marketplace for illegal drugs are asking a judge to toss out most of the evidence against him, saying the Fourth Amendment protects their client from “indiscriminate rummaging” through his entire online history.
The lawyers, Joshua Dratel and Lindsay Lewis, said in court papers that the government violated the ban on illegal search and seizure when it scoured the computers, servers and websites 30-year-old Ross Ulbricht used.
They said applications for search warrants described an investigation that began in early 2013 with a server hosting the Silk Road website in a foreign country.
“The wholesale collection and study of Mr. Ulbricht’s entire digital history without limitation — expressly sought in the warrants and granted — represent the very type of indiscriminate rummaging that caused the American colonists so much consternation,” according to the papers filed late Friday in federal court in Manhattan.
Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to charges of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, running a continuing criminal enterprise and money laundering. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 3.
Prosecutors say Ulbricht went by the online handle the Dread Pirate Roberts, an apparent reference to a character in the movie “The Princess Bride,” and turned the underground site into a place where anonymous users could buy or sell contraband and illegal services.
Authorities say Silk Road, which had nearly 1 million registered users by July 2013, generated more than $1 billion in illicit business from January 2011 through September. Federal investigators say Silk Road users anonymously browsed through nearly 13,000 listings under such categories as cannabis, psychedelics and stimulants.
The website used Bitcoin, the tough-to-track digital currency, before it was shut down.
Ulbricht was arrested last year at a public library in San Francisco, where he lived. Authorities said he was chatting online at the time with a co-operating witness. He remains incarcerated without bail.
A prosecutor’s spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.
In court papers, the government has accused Ulbricht of developing a website that enabled several thousand drug dealers worldwide to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services to more than 100,000 customers.
Ulbricht’s lawyers said evidence turned over by the government so far shows that witnesses may be located in various countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Iceland and France.
The lawyers also said the indictment against Ulbricht includes unfair references to charges he faces separately in federal court in Baltimore in an attempted murder-for-hire scheme.
The attorneys said the government’s investigation used 14 searches and seizures of digital storage devices and the information they contained.