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Supporters of Ross William Ulbricht hold signs during the jury selection for his trial outside of federal court in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015.Seth Wenig/The Associated Press

Ross William Ulbricht, the former Eagle Scout accused of running the $1.2-billion "Silk Road" online drug bazaar, is a "fall guy" set up to take the punishment for an Internet site he created and then left after a few months, his lawyer told a jury.

Ulbricht set up Silk Road as an "economic experiment," a "freewheeling, free-market site" that he left when it became too stressful for him after a few months, the lawyer, Joshua Dratel, told jurors Tuesday in his opening statement. It's the first time Ulbricht has explicitly conceded his connection to Silk Road, which was shut down by federal authorities in 2013.

"Ross was not a drug dealer; Ross was not a kingpin; Ross was not involved in a conspiracy to do anything like that," Dratel told the jury of six men and six women.

Ulbricht, 30, began trial Tuesday in Manhattan federal court on charges he ran the illegal site under the pseudonym of "Dread Pirate Roberts," making millions of dollars by helping criminals sell drugs, phony identification and computer hacking services to users who paid in bitcoins to preserve their anonymity. Ulbricht's online name was taken from a character in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, according to prosecutors.

Dratel told jurors that the Internet is a world where "everything is not what it seems."

"Behind a screen, you don't know what or who is on the other side," he said. "You don't know if they're telling the truth or if they are who they present to be."

Heroin, LSD

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Howard told jurors that the case will take them into "a dark and secret part of the Internet" where users bought heroin, cocaine, LSD and crystal methamphetamine with the ease of shopping on or EBay. Ulbricht controlled every aspect of the site, which he ran from 2011 until his arrest in October, 2013, Howard said. Ulbricht gave advice to drug dealers on how to package their products and required users to pay in digital currency to hide transactions from law enforcement, the prosecutor said.

The Silk Road site used the TOR network, which hides the identity of users by routing traffic through multiple servers.

Jurors will also hear evidence that Ulbricht tried to arrange the murders of six people to protect the business. The government has said it doesn't believe any of the murders were carried out and Ulbricht doesn't face charges relating to the alleged plots in this trial. He is charged separately in Baltimore with a single attempt to arrange a killing.

"He was willing to stop at nothing to protect his criminal empire," Howard told jurors.

Pirate 'Unmasked'

Howard said federal agents arrested Ulbricht in a San Francisco public library while he was talking online to a Silk Road employee who was an undercover agent.

"The Dread Pirate Roberts has been unmasked as Ulbricht, the defendant," Howard said. "He was literally caught with his fingers at the keyboard."

The case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 14-cr-00068, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The murder– for-hire case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 13-cr-00222, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Baltimore).

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