Just glancing at the recent superseding indictment against Ross Ulbricht (or reading the media coverage) you might think the government has come up with a bunch of new evidence. This is not the case, by the prosecution’s own admission. They say they have no new facts or evidence.
So what is new?
1. Lots of “aiding and abetting” language.
In the eyes of the law, aiding and abetting (encouraging or assisting) someone to commit a crime is the same as doing the deed yourself. Now, in addition to conspiring, they allege that by providing a web platform Ross aided/abetted. Web hosts (and fed ex) take note. If a site user breaks the law on your site (or using your services) and you are held criminally liable, the federal government says you could be aiding/abetting. They can then prosecute you as if you had actually committed the crime.
2. Multiple charges for the same alleged conduct.
The prosecution has converted a single alleged course of conduct (narcotics trafficking) into a set of interchangeable charges, giving the impression of multiple crimes. Joshua Dratel, Ross’ attorney, is not surprised. He says the government often tries to overwhelm and confuse a jury with the sheer number of charges. Hey, if he has that many charges against him, at least one must be true, right?
To illustrate the tactic, consider the crime of selling raw milk. #1 You are charged with selling raw milk. Then #2 conspiracy to sell raw milk, if your renter sold it from your property; #3 aiding and abetting selling raw milk, if your renter sold it from your property; and #4 selling raw milk on the internet (if you posted it on Craigslist). Now you have four charges against you, all for the same dairy product transaction. Wow, sounds way worse than selling a jug of cow juice!
The latest indictment accuses Ross of distributing drugs, not just providing a platform. However, in the same sentence they say he also aided and abetted the distribution. So according to them, he did it alone and helped others do it. Plus they say he conspired with others to do it. Plus he used the internet to do it. Plus he’s a kingpin! Even if he only aided someone else. (Obviously these charges contradict each other). Way to cover the bases! Now they have five crimes for the price of one, each with its own mandatory minimum sentence. How many years of a man’s life will finally satisfy these people?
And yet, with all the piling on, still no murder-for-hire charges?
3. Granted they threw in a new charge: fraudulent IDs. But hey – when you’re being called a kingpin and facing a 20-year mandatory minimum for that charge alone, fake IDs seem anti-climactic.