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Ross Ulbricht Sentenced to Life in Prison for Running Silk Road

Ulbricht plans to appeal his conviction.
May 29, 2015, 8:04pm

Ross Ulbricht, the 31-year-old convicted mastermind behind deep web market Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison today. The judge also denied his request for a lower security prison.

In February, Ulbricht was found guilty on all seven charges stemming from the creation and operation of the site, which carried out more than $200 million in illegal transactions, 95 percent of which were drug deals.


Before being sentenced, Ulbricht made a final plea for leniency before the judge, speaking in court for the first time since the trial began in January.

Parents of #SilkRoad victims spoke before sentencing. Ulbricht broke down in tears as he apologized to them: "I never wanted that to happen"
— Kari Paul (@kari_paul) May 29, 2015

"There's no way Silk Road could be reasonably expected to reduce violence," Judge Katherine Forrest said. She called the idea that Silk Road actually resulted in harm reduction "fantasy." The defense had attempted to argue that Silk Road reduced harm because it kept buyers off the street and circulated information about drug safety.

"Hand in hand deals are not the source of violence in drugs," Judge Forrest added. "That's missing the point. Silk Road wasn't making the drugs, they have to come from somewhere, Mexico and Afghanistan as an example. Silk Road cannot prevent the violence there, it's not part of that supply chain."

The sentencing marks the end of one of the first trials of its kind, bringing issues surrounding tools of anonymity including the digital currency Bitcoin and anonymous browser Tor into a federal court room. Ahead of the sentencing, the government had asked for a "lengthy sentence" for Ulbricht, saying if the court made an example of him, it could stop the proliferation of "dark markets" like Silk Road.

Judge in #SilkRoad case just eviscerated Ross Ulbricht's harm reduction arguments and sentenced him to life in prison.
— Kari Paul (@kari_paul) May 29, 2015


"Ulbricht's conviction is the first of its kind, and his sentencing is being closely watched," the government wrote. "The Court thus has an opportunity to send a clear message to anyone tempted to follow his example that the operation of these illegal enterprises comes with severe consequences."

As part of his sentencing, Ulbricht will be required to pay the government $183,961,921, the equivalent of the drug and fake identification transactions from the site. Bitcoin confiscated from Ulbricht's laptop at the time of his arrest can be attributed to the fine.

"You are a no better person than any other drug dealer."

The judge seemed to see Ulbricht's middle class background as a strike against him. "Some view it as moral ambiguity. There is no moral ambiguity about it. It's wrong. That's a privileged argument," she said. "You are a no better person than any other drug dealer. Your education doesn't make you different, and makes this more inexplicable."

She also didn't look kindly on the letter Ulbricht wrote asking for leniency in sentencing, in which he tried to frame Silk Road as an "experiment." Judge Forrest called the letter "a display of arrogance that the court takes into consideration."

She also added, "It is still unclear to me why you ever kept a journal," a reference to the diary Ulbricht kept that was extremely helpful to the prosecution at trial.

After the sentencing, Ulbricht's lawyer Joshua Dratel and his mother Lyn Ulbricht spoke to reporters. "Obviously there are consequences for his actions, and I do not advocate drug use. But at the same time the drug war is filling our prisons with non violent offenders like Ross," Lyn Ulbricht said.


Dratel noted again that the judge had shot down his attempt at trial to present an "alternative perpetrator" theory, and added that Silk Road moderator Peter Nash only received 17 months, or time served, after he pleaded guilty.

"The difference is one pleaded guilty and the other exercised his constitutional right to a trial," Dratel said.

The judge sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for the combined counts of narcotics trafficking and distribution of narcotics by means of the internet. He was also given life without parole, to be served concurrently, for narcotics conspiracy, which was folded into the count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. For the count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, he was given five years. For conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, he was given 10 years. For one count of money laundering conspiracy, he was given 20 years.

Ulbricht's defense team has already said he will appeal his conviction.

Update: It looks like Ulbricht will likely serve his sentence in Texas, Florida, or Virginia: