Ross Ulbricht is a former darknet market operator notorious for founding and operating the Silk Road marketplace.
Ulbricht was caught by law enforcement in 2013. In 2015, the federal jury in Manhattan found Ross Ulbricht guilty on seven charges, including conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit computer hacking. They also convicted him for continuing a criminal enterprise.
The federal government’s case against Ross Ulbricht was built around his operation, which was called “Silk Road.”
The life sentence given to Ulbricht was not because he sold drugs and other illicit items himself but rather for creating and operating an online marketplace where others did.
In historic sentencing, Ulbricht, who used the online alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was given life imprisonment for his crimes committed under cover of the anonymity provided by Tor, Bitcoin, and Silk Road.
Ross Ulbricht Early Life and Education
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Ross Ulbricht attended the University of Texas at Dallas for his bachelor’s degree in physics before moving to Pennsylvania State University.
At Pennsylvania State University, he studied materials science and engineering with an emphasis in crystallography until ultimately earning a master’s degree.
During his college days, he had an eye towards libertarian economic theory that aligned him closer than ever before toward libertarianism — a political philosophy he had become heavily invested in by studying the famous economist Ludwig von Mises.
Ross Ulbricht Early Career
After earning his degree from Penn State in 2009, Ross Ulbricht returned to Austin to become a financial trader and start a company. He began his career as a day trader and founded a video game company, but he failed to make a profit. He dabbled in a variety of occupations and jobs. Moreover, he launched a firm to sell online used books.
During this period, Ulbricht first conceived the notion of building an online marketplace using Tor encryption and Bitcoin, which was still in its early stages.
Ross Ulbricht’s goal was to create an environment where people could trade without fear of government scrutiny or intervention. To accomplish this, he hosted the Silk Road marketplace website on Tor and ensured that Bitcoin was used by users so that they could conduct transactions with substantial anonymity.
The Silk Road was an early predecessor to today’s online black markets. The Tor network is used to conceal the user’s identity and location while browsing the internet.
Whereas Bitcoin offers an anonymous transactional method that users can use without linking their identities to their cryptocurrency wallet addresses. This early notion would eventually develop into one of the world’s most notorious darknet markets – Silk Road.
Ross Ulbricht Dread Pirate Roberts Silk Road
When Ross Ulbricht created Silk Road in 2011, he referred to himself as “Dread Pirate Roberts” online, referring to numerous fictitious characters that assumed the moniker of the “Dread Pirate Roberts” in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride.
Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, envisioned his project as a way to rid society’s ills by eliminating the use of coercion and aggression among humanity.
Silk Road was created in 2011 and became popular almost overnight. The media outlets picked up stories about the market shortly thereafter, bringing increased interest from both potential customers and law enforcement agencies.
Subsequently, law enforcement attempted to identify Silk Road users and to shut down the Tor site.
Nevertheless, despite being a well-known but secretive marketplace, Silk Road remained a highly popular destination for both legal and illicit activity throughout 2013.
According to the authorities, when Silk Road was shut down, the site had earned almost $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commissions for its operator.
Ross Ulbricht Arrest, Prosecution, and Incarceration
In mid-2013, an IRS investigator Gary Alford worked with the US DEA on the Silk Road investigation and discovered that Ross Ulbricht was linked to “Dread Pirate Roberts.”
The link was established by connecting the pseudonym “altoid,” which was used to promote Silk Road in its early days.
Moreover, Ulbricht’s forum post used the handle “altoid” and inquired for programming assistance and provided his email address, which included his complete name.
In October 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Ulbricht at the San Francisco Public Library’s Glen Park branch, alleging that he was the “mastermind” behind Silk Road.
Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, was also charged with murder-for-hire in a separate case in federal court in Baltimore. However, in 2018, the allegations against him were dropped.
After the FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht, they seized his laptop and found a shared digital wallet containing 144,336 bitcoins. They were auctioned off in auctions for a total of $48.2 million.
Ulbricht’s trial in Manhattan began in January 2015, and he was found guilty on all seven counts. The proceedings were highly publicized with threats from supporters of Silk Road though it isn’t clear if those messages ever reached the judge overseeing his case because nothing was substantiated.
Ulbricht declared in a letter to the judge prior to his sentencing that his acts were motivated by his libertarian views and that Silk Road was intended to be about providing individuals the opportunity to make their own decisions.
On May 29, 2015, Ulbricht was sentenced to two life sentences plus 40 years without parole.
The Case of Dread Pirate Roberts Has Been Appealed
When Ulbricht attempted to appeal his conviction in 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected it.
Furthermore, Ulbricht filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in 2017, claiming that his case raises unsolved constitutional issues relating to the Fourth Amendment and the digital age.
The court, however, declined to hear Ross’s complaint in June 2018. Ulbricht filed a motion to have his sentence vacated or set aside in the New York Southern District Court on Oct. 10, 2019. This motion was also turned down.
According to media reports in late 2020, former US President Donald Trump was believed to be considering commuting Mr. Ulbricht’s sentence, but he eventually did not.
More than 435,000 people have signed an internet petition started by Ross’ mother, Lyn Ulbricht, to commute Ulbricht’s double life sentence.
Ulbricht’s supporters have also made an informative website with additional information regarding his case.
Ross Ulbricht’s Prison Sentence: How Long Does He Serve?
Ulbricht was sentenced on May 29, 2015, to two life sentences plus 40 years in jail, to be served simultaneously and without the opportunity of parole.
Was Ross Ulbricht Involved in Creating Bitcoin?
Ross Ulbricht was not engaged in the development of bitcoin, despite the fact that darknet sites such as Silk Road were early adopters.
Is the Silk Road Marketplace Still in Operation?
Shortly after Ross Ulbricht was apprehended, the FBI took down Silk Road, confiscating 144,336 bitcoins in the process.
Ross Ulbricht Dread Pirate Roberts Silk Road – Conclusion
The sentence of life in prison for Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, has been met with much criticism.
His supporters argue that his sentence is unfair and too harsh, while others maintain that the sentence is justified because Ulbricht created an online black market to profit himself off other people’s illicit transactions, which led to worse crimes.
He was found guilty of seven major counts, including conspiracy to traffic narcotics, and sentenced to life imprisonment by a federal jury.
Ulbricht’s supporters are shocked by his sentence, and many people have expressed their opinions. His supporters say that he didn’t deserve the punishment handed down by the judge. Many people have signed a petition calling for his clemency.