Introduction – Ross Ulbricht At A Glance:
Ross Ulbricht, also believed to have gone by the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts”, is probably most well known as being the creator, owner, and supposed Darknet market operator of the infamous Silk Road, an online black market which accepted Bitcoin as payment. Unfortunately it was largely used for buying drugs online. Ross has ended up with life in prison, without the possibility of parole (May 29th, 2015) after being convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics on February 6th, 2015, more on that below. Needless to say, there are some who see his sentence as being over-the-top, and call for his release.
Ross William Ulbricht was born on March 27th, 1984, in Austin Texas, USA. He’s currently around 33 years old and is an American citizen. He received a B.S. in 2006 from the University of Texas in Dallas, and an M.S. in 2009 from the Pennsylvania State University. He is said to have had a net worth of $28.5 million at the time of the seizure (he himself was arrested October 1st, 2013).
According to an article from December 2nd, 2016, by Bitcoin Magazine, in 2013, Ulbricht, who had been presumably running the Silk Road under the pseudonym of Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR for short) was arrested for doing so. The darknet site was a multi-million dollar online platform, which had become popular with drug dealers and for making anonymous transactions. Later, he was given a life sentence without parole, in addition to 40 years on five non-violent counts: Continuing Criminal Enterprise, Distribution of Narcotics by Means of the Internet, Conspiracy to Commit and Aid and Abet Computer Hacking, Money Laundering Conspiracy, and Conspiracy to Traffic in Fraudulent Identity Documents.
Earlier in his case, there were allegations of murder-for-hire involving Ulbricht as well, however they were never substantiated in court, and they were not charged to him at the trial.
According to the article from Bitcoin Magazine, Ulbricht has been portrayed as generally dangerous by the federal authorities, while…
“Others with more of a libertarian, anarcho-capitalist bent go so far as to assert that he is being made an example of for having the audacity to champion freedom and liberty.”
During his trial, his attorney asserted that although he had begun the Silk Road [started in 2011, & was apparently planned for since 2009], that he had done so as a free-market experiment, that could sell anything except for a few harmful items, and that he had not actually been the one running the platform for quite some time. He asserts that those who had been running the platform, knew that their time was coming to an end, and that they pinned it on Ross Ulbricht, being the original founder of the site. You can hear more of his defence, as well as the government’s case against him here.
Ulbricht’s defense team had been at work, and on November 18th, 2013, they revealed that someone had logged into Silk Road forum accounts which were associated with “Dread Pirate Roberts” while Ulbricht was in custody. They also provided evidence that evidence-tampering may have taken place. Two men, who had been tasked with finding the identity of the owner of the Silk Road were charged on multiple corruption charges, and both had high-level admin access, and could access accounts, manipulate data, and change passwords. Both used Silk Road pseudonyms and stole bitcoins from users, even attempting to extort money from Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR).
Carl Mark Force lV, a Drug Enforcement agent for 15 years, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, after pleading guilty to money laundering, extortion, and obstruction of justice. He had been working on the case for two years as a secret agent, in a multi-agency team. He used his position to steal more [than] $700,000 of bitcoins, as well as a Hollywood contract. He was ordered to pay restitutions valuing $340,000.
Shaun Bridges, NSA agent & ex-Secret Service agent, was sentenced to nearly six years (71 months) in prison, after pleading guilty to money laundering and obstruction charges, having pocketed $820,000 from Silk Road user accounts. Not surprisingly, his attorneys tried to make his sentence only three years, but the judge wouldn’t have it. According to NY Daily News:
“U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said Bridges’ behavior was a “shocking and reprehensible abandonment of his public duty.””
Prosecutors claimed that Bridges had tried to put the blame of the theft on a witness who had been cooperating with the investigation, which is said to have prompted Ross Ulbricht to “take out hits on the witness’ life.” Bridges finally and tearfully accepted the responsibility of having committed the crime, and told the judge that he hadn’t spend any of the money he took.
“This to me is an extremely serious crime consisting of the betrayal of public trust by a federal law enforcement agent,” Seeborg said before issuing the 71-month prison sentence. “And from everything I see, it was motivated entirely by greed.”
~NY Daily News
Ross has since sought an appeal to his life-sentence, questioning various levels of warrants that were given in relation to such things as his personal laptop, social media accounts, and phone numbers he had called. His appeal have been rejected. You can read more about that here, here, and here.
In other news, in an article posted in July of this year (2017), by news.bitcoin.com, Ross was suddenly moved from his correctional facility without notice. When his family finally found out where he had been moved to (a facility for awaiting an assigned prison), they said he was in good spirits but showed concern that he could be moved to a more dangerous prison, and said that he should be moved to a prison with a safe yard.
Ross’ mother, Lyn Ulbricht, has been his biggest fan & defender of his innocence since his imprisonment. She has travelled the world speaking at freedom events & festivals, persistently advocated for his release, and collected thousands of dollars supporting her son’s appeal. She has become a spokesperson for internet rights, sentencing laws, fair trials, and due processing rights. She has maintained that her son is innocent, that he did not receive a fair trial, and that the jury was not shown all of the evidence, that he’s not a harm to anyone, but rather could be a benefit to society if freed, among other things. She is fearful that life in prison could break his spirit.
This article shares Ross’ reflections on life imprisonment, as well as thoughts from his mother, and support from the online community.
Early Life & Education:
Ross was raised in the Austin metropolitan area, and served in the Boy Scouts, in which he attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He went to West Ridge Middle School, as well as Westlake High School, which were both around the Austin area. He graduated high school in 2002.
As mentioned, he attended the University of Texas in Dallas (with a full academic scholarship), graduating in 2006, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics. He later joined a master’s degree program in engineering and materials science, also studying crystallography, at the Pennsylvania State University, where he graduated in 2009.
Ross gained an interest in libertarian economic theory, going to college debates to discuss his views, and is said to have been a fan of Ron Paul, and adhered to the political philosophy of Ludwig von Mises.
Ross wasn’t satisfied with employment and desired to become an entrepreneur. He failed at his first attempt at a business. He had tried day trading and had tried to start a video game company. The game that he was working on was apparently designed to give people a simulated experience of living in a world “… without the systemic use of force…”. He later partnered with Donny Palmertree, a friend, to build an online used bookseller: Good Wagon Books. This limited success in business, as well as a breakup with an on-and-off girlfriend from his university, left him feeling discontented.
What do you think of Ross’ case? Is he innocent or guilty? Does his life-imprisonment + 40 years fit the crime if he is guilty, or is it over-the-top? We may never know, but we do know that he will likely continue to grab the spotlight from time to time, as we receive updates from him in prison, and as others continue to fight for his freedom.