The convicted mastermind behind the world’s largest online narcotics emporium has been sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge, Bloomberg reports.
The judge also ordered Ross Ulbricht, 31, to forfeit $US184 million dollars. The estimated that roughly $US1.2 billion in illegal drug transactions took place on Silk Road.
Ulbricht, faced anywhere from 20 years to life in prison for his role in running Silk Road under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts.”
Ulbricht was convicted in February of all seven counts including trafficking drugs on the internet, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy, running a continuing criminal enterprise, computer-hacking conspiracy, and money-laundering conspiracy, according to Bloomberg.
Parents of drug overdose victims reportedly spoke before sentencing, and Ulbricht started crying as he apologised.
“I never wanted that to happen,” he said.
Last week, Ulbricht and 97 of his friends and relatives wrote letters to US Judge Katherine Forrest pleading for the most lenient sentence possible — in this case, 20 years.
Ulbricht’s own letter is significant given his decision not to testify during the trial. In it, he showed public remorse for his actions for the first time since the trial began in early January.
“Even now I understand what a terrible mistake I made,” he wrote. “I’ve had my youth, and I know you must take away my middle years, but please leave me my old age. Please leave me a small light at the end of the tunnel, an excuse to stay healthy, an excuse to dream of better days ahead, and a chance to redeem myself in the free world before I meet my maker.”
The challenge for the prosecution throughout the trial was to prove that 30-year-old Texas native Ross Ulbricht is in fact Dread Pirates Roberts — the person who was running the black market e-commerce site Silk Road when the FBI shut it down in 2013.
While Ulbricht’s defence attorney, Joshua Dratel, never denied that Ulbricht had founded Silk Road, he argued that Ulbricht left the site at its peak for quite some time and only rejoined right before his arrest.
Dratel repeatedly claimed that somebody else took over the site after Ulbricht started and expanded it into the massive narcotics emporium it became. However, the defence struggled throughout the trial to come up with alternative “DPRs” — especially as the journal entries and chat logs found on Ulbricht’s laptop (in which he refers to Silk Road as a “criminal enterprise) continue to incriminate him.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution, led by Assistant US Attorneys Serrin Turner and Timothy Howard, attempted to characterise Ulbricht as a ruthless drug kingpin who was “motivated by greed and vanity,” and whose website resulted in countless addictions and multiple drug-related deaths because of the ease with which it allowed people to purchase drugs.
Most shockingly, prosecutors alleged Ulbricht had hired assassins to murder six targets that threatened the existence of Silk Road. Ulbricht was denied bail on the basis of these accusations, but the murder charges were never actually filed. It remains unclear why the prosecution dropped the charges, although one reason may be the lack of evidence that these alleged murders ever even occurred.
Dratel insisted the murder-for-hire charges were fabricated, and that there was no way to link any drug-related deaths to Silk Road. If anything, he argued, the website had provided a platform for buying and selling drugs that was “far safer” than traditional drug-dealing on the street.
Dratel refuted the prosecution’s characterization of Ulbricht as a ruthless drug kingpin by capitalising on the 31-year-old’s compassionate nature and admirable personal traits. In its sentencing memorandum, the defence noted how Ulbricht was an Eagle Scout and “excelled in school,” and has “a unique set of skills and traits that will enable him to become a valuable asset to his community.”
The memorandum also included letters from Ulbricht’s fellow inmates, who described how Ulbricht had taught them yoga and meditation while tutoring others in maths and physics.
In his letter to the judge, Ulbricht noted how his motivations for creating Silk Road were more ideologically than financially motivated.
“I created Silk Road because … I believed at the time that people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren’t hurting anyone else,” he wrote.
The prosecution wrote in its own memorandum, however, that Ulbricht’s personal traits are not significant mitigating factors. Prosecutors argued that the now-31-year-old “was well aware of the dangers inherent in the products he was selling” and “
cultivated a darker side of his personality” during his years running Silk Road “that his friends and family would have found shocking.”
In his letter, Ulbricht wrote of his “love for humanity” — a conviction he promised he would not lose during his years of imprisonment.
The case has been hailed as the most significant — and maybe even the first — of its kind, as it is the first time the government has ever expanded the statute of money laundering to include digital currency (bitcoins).
Worryingly to advocates of internet freedom, the trial was also one of the first times an individual has ever been charged for building a website. Many of Ulbricht’s supporters fear the trial could open the door to criminal liability for web hosts, who are supposed to be protected by the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
Ulbricht will be relocated to ____.