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What Ross Ulbricht’s ‘life in prison’ sentence means to illegal online retail and Bitcoin

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Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind responsible for creating and running the illegal drug marketplace Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday (29th). The sentence was announced by judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan’s US district court for the southern district of New York.

The 31-year-old defendant, known in the Deep Web as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, was handed the harshest sentence available in the United States, composed by five different sentences with no chance of parole. The judge handed one sentence for 20 years, one for 15 years, one for five and two for life, The Guardian reported.

Ulbricht was accused of several crimes like narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy and money laundering. However, the most touching accusation was made by the parents of two victims who overdosed using drugs obtained on Silk Road.

The parents wanted to show that Silk Road’s activities were not victimless. “I strongly believe that my son would be here today if Silk Road had never existed,” said Richard B., father of the 25-year-old victim.

“I never wanted that to happen. I wish I could go back and convince myself to take a different path,” Ulbricht said while crying in court.

Before this last session in court, ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ wrote to judge Katherine Forrest begging for mercy. Ulbricht asked the judge to “leave a light at the end of the tunnel. (…) I know you must take away my middle years, but please leave me my old age.”

“I’ve changed. I’m not the man I was when I created Silk Road. I’m a little wiser. A little more mature and much more humble.”

Ross Ulbricht, in court

On the other side, prosecutors wrote Forrest a 16-page letter requesting a heavy sentence: “a lengthy sentence, one substantially above the mandatory minimum is appropriate in this case.”

FILE- In this Oct. 4, 2013 file photo, an artist rendering showing Ross William Ulbricht during an appearance at Federal Court in San Francisco is shown. Authorities say that Ulbricht had spent most of three years "evading law enforcement, living a double life" while operating an underground website known as Silk Road, a black-market bazaar for cocaine, heroin and other drugs, while portraying himself as an Internet trailblazer. On Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013,  a federal judge ordered Ulbricht held without bail during a court appearence in New York..  (AP Photo/Vicki Behringer, File)
Ross Ulbricht | AP Photo/Vicki Behringer

The judge ended up favouring the prosecutors, rejecting arguments that Silk Road was actually trying to reduce the harm caused by drug trafficking by taking the activity off the streets.

“The stated purpose [of Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist. You were captain of the ship, the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. You made your own laws,” Forrest told the defendant as she read the sentence.

At one point, Silk Road was the largest illegal online marketplace focusing on the sale of all kinds of narcotics and weapons, amongst other products and services like murder for hire.

The proof against Ulbricht was so obvious that it was impossible for the judge to even consider the argument presented by the defense. According to Ulbricht’s lawyers, ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ was the victim of an elaborate hack. However, Ulbricht was arrested in 2013 while accessing Silk Road from a public library.

Silk Road’s success boosted the development of several other illegal marketplaces based on the ‘dark web’. Not long after the seizure of the original Silk Road, even a 2.0 version of the site was created in November 2013 only to shut down a year later.

Most of these ‘deep web’ platforms accepted Bitcoin as a payment option, boosting the growth of the world’s most famous cryptocurrency over the past couple of years. Although, the circumstances have changed dramatically, especially due to the quick and effective action of the authorities. At the moment, less people seem willing to risk their freedom and lives thanks to the example set by the Silk Road case.

Maria is an experienced journalist currently living in the UK. She has been writing about Bitcoin and the altcoin universe since 2013. She is also a member of the Lifeboat Foundation's New Money Systems Board and a big cryptocurrency supporter.

View all Posts by Maria Santos

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3 comments on “What Ross Ulbricht’s ‘life in prison’ sentence means to illegal online retail and Bitcoin”

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    1. Alexander Reed

      I actually find it very concerning and definitely not a laughing matter. Would you care to elaborate a bit on your thoughts ?

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