Alleged Silk Road website mastermind Ross Ulbricht, AKA Dread Pirate Roberts, has just launched an ambitious attempt to have more than 173,000 Bitcoins seized by the FBI returned to him, despite continuing to protest his innocence in the charges leveled against him.
The argument given by Ulbricht is an interesting one – he admits his identity and says that the $30 million worth of BTC that the Feds confiscated belong to him, yet he denies that he’s the same person as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. Therefore, claims Ulbricht, the Feds should release him and also return his virtual currency.
Ulbricht is basically trying to take advantage of the ambiguous legal status of Bitcoin, reports the New York Post:
“In a notarized statement dated December 11, Ulbricht reportedly says he “has an interest as owner” in the seized funds and argues that as a virtual currency, Bitcoins are “not subject to seizure” under federal forfeiture laws.”
“It’s a neat argument. Since the Silk Road raid was the largest Bitcoin forfeiture in US history, the courts literally have never heard a case quite like it. It’s possible that a judge could rule that Bitcoins don’t count as the kind of property that can be seized in a criminal prosecution.”
“Ulbricht’s attempt at forcing the government to return the bitcoins marks the first time the courts have been asked to determine whether the controversial virtual currency is an asset that falls under forfeiture laws, legal experts told The Post.”
Unfortunately for Ulbricht, it’s not an argument he’s likely to win. Legal precedents have already been established that justify the seizure of all manner of things, including intellectual properties like web domains. That Ulbricht wants the Bitcoins returned at all proves that they do indeed have value – which makes them fair game as far as the Feds are concerned.
It’s hard to see Ulbricht winning, because law enforcement authorities have almost always been allowed to seize ‘things of value’ that were obtained illegally.
Even so, Ulbricht doesn’t really have anything to lose. His case is likely to drag on for months, if not for years, and so he could certainly do with the money to fund his defense. Among other things, he’s been charged with organizing six contract killings, although it’s believed that no one was actually murdered.
Last month, Ulbricht’s family and supporters reportedly raised $1 million in an effort to secure bail, only for his application to be refused when he was judged a flight risk.