The story of Silk Road and its creator Ross Ulbricht are inextricably linked to bitcoin’s history. In February 2011, the dark web black market was one of the first web stores to go bitcoin-only, providing an undeniable use case for the bitcoin network as a payment rail. On the other hand, the Silk Road stained bitcoin by linking it to drugs and other illicit products. A stench that the cryptocurrency is only beginning to shake.
On the 1st of October 2013, Ross Ulbricht was arrested to much fanfare. A few days later, the original Silk Road closed. The bitcoin network didn’t even blink. Culturally, though, the arrest and Silk Road’s disappearance marked the end of an era. A few years later, Ross Ulbricht’s extremely hard sentence shook the bitcoin world to the core. And it’s still a hot topic wherever bitcoin is discussed.
In a recent tweet from Ross Ulbricht’s official account, which is “run by a loved one in the free world,” he wrote: “Tomorrow I’ll begin my 10th year in prison. I don’t know what to say. I screwed up. I ruined my life and caused a lot of pain. When I look back and see my many mistakes, I feel immense regret.”
Silk Road’s Creator’s Extremely Hard Sentence
The man also known as Dread Pirate Roberts got not one but two life sentences, plus 40 years. For what? For everything Silk Road’s users did. The seven charges were: distribution of narcotics, distribution of narcotics over the Internet, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, furthering a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to hack a computer, conspiracy to smuggle using false identification, and money laundering. Notice that none of the convictions implies violence of any kind.
However, in Ross Ulbricht’s sentencing, the judge claims:
“Ulbricht’s directed violence here is and relates to the murders for hire which he is alleged to have commissioned and paid for. The Court must determine whether these allegations have been demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence and I find that there is ample and unambiguous evidence that Ulbricht commissioned five murders as part of his efforts to protect his criminal enterprise and that he paid for these murders.”
They did not convict the Silk Road creator for the alleged murders for hire, though.
In Ulbricht’s change.org clemency petition, his defendants present a strong case:
“Ross is condemned to die in prison, not for selling drugs himself but for creating a website where others did. This is far harsher than the punishment for much worse offenses. All other defendants related to the case―including the actual drug sellers and the creator of Silk Road 2―received sentences from 8 months to 10 years and nearly all are free today.”
Ross Ulbricht On Ross Ulbricht
At the Bitcoin 2021 conference, the Bitcoin Magazine team premiered a phone interview with the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. The Silk Road creator spoke from a maximum security prison and said, among other things:
“I thought with Bitcoin, I could try and do something that actually makes a difference… Back then, I was impatient. I rushed ahead with my first idea, which was Silk Road… That’s a 26-year-old who thinks he has to save the world before someone beats him to it. I had no idea Silk Road would work, but now we all know it caught on. It was used to sell drugs, and now I’m in prison.”
In a letter to the Court quoted on the Free Ross website, Ulbricht evoked the same sentiment:
“Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness, however they individually saw fit. [It] turned out to be a naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.”
Nine years after Ross Ulbricht’s arrest & Silk Road’s closing, how’s bitcoin doing? Fine, thanks for asking. Tick tock, next block. Ross Ulbricht, on the other hand, could use your help. If you think the Dread Pirate Roberts’ punishment doesn’t fit the crime, consider donating and signing the petition.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.