The Let’s Talk Bitcoin Network hosts several podcasts for regular discussion topics in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency, including the popular weekly show What Bitcoin Did. As a special event, however, What Bitcoin Did has partnered with the campaign to free Ross Ulbricht to host a detailed analysis of Ulbricht’s arrest and imprisonment, Railroaded, on the LTB Network.
Peter McCormack, the host of What Bitcoin Did, has worked closely with the #FreeRoss campaign in the past, having interviewed Lyn Ulbricht multiple times. For this series, however, McCormack took a completely different approach: All of the information featured on the podcast is part of the public record, with no subjective narratives personally delivered by any member of the Ulbricht family or the #FreeRoss campaign.
This distinction becomes more and more necessary as the program goes on, as the level of corruption and incompetence displayed by members of various law enforcement agencies beggars belief.
Part One of the series focuses on the large extent to which Ross Ulbricht divested himself from the Silk Road’s operation only months before the investigation took its first steps. This nuance, however, is quickly dwarfed by the extent to which bad faith and departmental squabbling inside Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and other agencies made a frame-up job necessary if the government was to make a case at all — even if it had to be a fraudulent one.
Just as HSI agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan submitted his initial report targeting Mark Karpeles as the suspected bankroller of the Silk Road, one Agent McFarland from the Baltimore department of HSI began to use Der-Yeghiayan’s information to take control of the case himself.
Part Two examines the missteps of the investigation, from the innocuous blunders to the actions of outright fraud. McFarland’s “investigation” directly alerted Karpeles that the federal government was looking into him, allowing him to cover his tracks and escape prosecution entirely. Several of McFarland’s agents directly stole more than 20,000 bitcoins from Silk Road accounts, framing one of the Silk Road’s associate cocaine traffickers for the theft. By allowing Karpeles to escape prosecution, it appears that the agents ensured that the court would not discover Karpeles’ ledgers or their own names on them.
Part Three goes on to detail the attempts to pin Ross Ulbricht to the entire administration of the Silk Road, as investigators used information that did not come up as a result of their investigative methods, but rather as part of a pay-for-play scheme with parties on the Silk Road. This information was then doctored after the fact to place Ulbricht under suspicion, making it appear as if the officers had simply discovered it through routine observation. Although investigators discovered several “vital pieces of evidence” by improper methods, many such items appear to have been passed off in court as the products of organic discovery.
Without a warrant, they monitored internet communications from Ulbricht’s house to further build this so-called evidence before arresting him. Ulbricht was the most credible remaining patsy for the investigation: Karpeles had already taken steps to protect himself, and whatever anonymous individual was behind the account running the Silk Road on a day-by-day basis had also managed to buy information about the case for astronomical sums of bitcoins. With this knowledge, these people were able to stay several steps ahead of the prosecution and evade further scrutiny. Ulbricht was the only one left unawares, largely due to his lack of actual involvement.
In Part Four, we learn the details of some of the steps that prosecutors took to make the evidence more presentable to a court, including taking data from Ulbricht’s computers through methods that would make it laughably easy to tamper with said data. The political impetus behind the Silk Road case is also put on full display, as federal prosecutors became determined to make an example of whomever could be blamed for the Silk Road’s existence and operation.
Part Five details the final steps of the conviction and sentencing in the Ulbricht case, fatefully including the detail that the prosecution referenced “murders” conducted over the actions of Silk Road, despite the fact that no such actions ever occurred, nor was Ulbricht involved in the hypothetical discussion of such acts.
The series concludes with Part Six, covering the events after Ulbricht’s sentencing, including the efforts to expose some of the corruption undertaken by law enforcement officers on the case, as well as the beginnings of the #FreeRoss campaign.
Ultimately, the members of the campaign and associates of the LTB podcast network recognize that efforts to spread awareness of Ulbricht’s plight are the best strategy for advocating for his release. The #FreeRoss campaign’s petition for clemency already has more than 100,000 signatures and that number is still growing.