The alleged founder of one of the worlds most successful and largest underground online drug bazaar’s, Ross William Ulbricht, has been sentenced to life in prison after being charged for running the underground marketplace known as the Silk Road. Popular for allowing buyers and sellers around the world make dealings for firearms and even online tutorials.
Ulbricht, the 31-year-old was convicted on seven counts of money laundering, drug trafficking among other charges back in February after initially being seized by federal officials back in October 2013.
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest denied Ulbritch’s request for leniency during a three-hour federal court hearing in Manhattan, New York.
The judge addressed a number of issues during the hearing, including the 97 letters that had been written to the court by Ulbritch’s family and supporters outside the prison, pleading for Ross.
During the hearing, Forrest made it clear she has “no doubt” that Ulbritch hired a hitman to kill six individuals who threatened the Silk Road’s fate at the time. Prosecutors originally charged Ulbricht with six murders-for-hire but such charges were later thrown out after zero evidence came forward supporting the murder or hitman case. Presumably, leaving many to believe they were never carried out, though the judge believes otherwise.
During the hearing, Forrest ordered Ulbricht to pay the glaring fine accumulating $183 million after he had pleaded to the judge for a second chance. Prosecutors estimated the Silk Road sales from illegal drugs and counterfeit IDs to match Ulbricht’s fine at a certain bitcoin exchange rate-over time. Additional revenues the government receives from the sale of the bitcoin seized from the Silk Road server and Ulbricht’s laptop will be applied to federal investigators $183 million fine.
“I wanted to empower people to make choices in their lives…to have privacy and anonymity,” Ulbricht explained to Forrest. “I’m not a sociopathic person trying to express some inner badness.”
Ulbricht’s sentencing will likely finalize the Silk Road saga, the story of the 31-year-old Penn. State graduate who spawned the market in early 2011. After two years of outrageous success, the Silk Road met its end when Ulbricht was arrested in a public library in San Francisco. Following eight months later, Ulbritcht was convicted of seven felony charges, including conspiracies to traffic in narcotics and money, as well as a “kingpin” charge that is usually reserved for leaders of organized crime groups.
Friday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara labeled Ulbricht as a kingping drug trafficking enterprise who made illicit drug activities easier to commit.
“Ulbricht bears responsibility for the overdoses, addictions, and other foreseeable repercussions of the illegal drugs sold on Silk Road,” Bharara wrote in a letter to judge Forrest. “It does not matter that he did not personally handle those drugs; neither would a traditional kingpin.”
Two of the seven charges were later deemed redundant and dropped by court a few days prior to the sentencing, though the lesser charges did not lessen Ulbricht’s mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.
During the Silk Road founders hearing, individuals of families who had lost their loved one to drugs bought from the Silk Road testified in front of the court, blaming the Silk Road for their death, believing Ross and the marketplace are to blame.
Silk Road was one of the first of its kind, an unregulated online marketplace where buyers paid in anonymous Bitcoin currency and could purchase anything from firearms, drugs, hitman services, hacking tutorials among other unregulated services. Ulbricht merely ran the marketplace, facilitating over 1.5 million transactions totaling $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million on commission.
Not long after the Silk Road was seized by the federal government, a Silk Road 2.0 appeared online, successfully running for 365 days just after the owner cashed out on $270,000, spending $70,000 to serve as a down payment on a Tesla Model S car, leading to his eventual arrest. The alleged owner, Blake Benthall was too a San Franciso-man, who admitted to running the Silk Road 2.0 marketplace mere hours after being arrested.
Hours following Benthall’s arrest, a Silk Road 3.0 spawned, serving as a Silk Road-type market. Though many other far more reputable drug marketplaces exist among the current underground industry.
Ulbricht’s defense team is already gearing up for an appeal in his case that will call for a new trial. New revelations surfaced back in March when Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Administration investigators stole millions of dollars in bitcoin from the Silk Road. One agent has even been accused of blackmailing Ulbricht and even selling law enforcement information regarding the Silk Road case on other underground markets.
Judges for Ulbricht’s case ruled the Baltimore-based agents accused of crimes were not involved in the FBI-run investigation that led to Silk Road’s eventual shutdown. Denying such allegations of corruption have put a hold on Ulbricht’s fate, landing him life in prison without parole.
Even after Ulbricht’s defense painted the Silk Road as a safer alternative to traditional-street drug dealing, judge Forrest dismissed all allegations, stating the Silk Road created a higher demand for drugs throughout the world.
In Forrest’s sentencing statement she denied Silk Road as anything far from a enterprise drug cartel, making it out to be far worse than many believe.
“It was carefully planned life’s work. It was your opus,” Forrest said. “You wanted it to be your legacy and it is.”