Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the underground marketplace named Silk Road that allowed its users to buy and sell a wide range of goods and services including illegal drugs anonymously, was sentenced to life in prison without any chance of parole on Friday.
Ulbricht was convicted in February by a federal jury in Manhattan on all seven counts he was charged with related to computer-hacking conspiracy, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy and money laundering, and was facing a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Despite Ulbricht’s plea for leniency and his apologetic speech, the judge sentenced the 31 year old to two life sentences plus 30 years in prison. Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel said he would appeal the case.
“I’ve essentially ruined my life and broke the heart of every member of my family and all my closest friends,” Ulbricht said, before telling the judge that he is “ready for whatever sentence you think is wise.”
“What you did was unprecedented,” US District Judge Katherine Forrest told Ulbricht, “And in breaking that ground as the first person, you sit here as the defendant having to pay the consequences for that.”
Silk Road, the online black market website, was shut down in 2013 when the FBI arrested Ulbricht in a public library in San Francisco while he was logged in at the time as Dread Pirate Roberts. Silk Road 2.0 went up after his arrest and was also shut down. Silk Road 3.0 is currently operational, Gizmodo reports.
Ulbricht told the judge before being sentenced that he was motivated to build Silk Road for liberty, not material gains. “I wanted to empower people to make choices in their lives and have privacy and anonymity,” he said.
Forrest was unconvinced, pointing out the extent of control Ulbricht exercised over the site, from detailed terms of service to forcing transactions to be carried out in bitcoin, transactions that he took a substantial commission from.
“It wasn’t about democracy, You were the captain of the ship,” she said, “of rules you created, and there were a lot of rules.”
Ulbricht’s lawyer claimed that Ulbricht had indeed created Silk Road but had handed it off to others when it became too stressful to run. Dratel claimed Ulbricht was the “fall guy” brought in at the end, a scapegoat for the site’s true operators.
“Make no mistake: Ulbricht was a drug dealer and criminal profiteer who exploited people’s addictions and contributed to the deaths of at least six young people,” Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement after sentencing, referring to people who overdosed on drugs bought on Silk Road.
“Ulbricht went from hiding his cybercrime identity to becoming the face of cybercrime and as today’s sentence proves, no one is above the law.”
Prosecutors claimed that in the three years it operated, Silk Road generated more than $214 million in sales and earned Ulbricht about $18 million in bitcoins. Ulbricht was ordered by Forrest to forfeit $183 million.
The prosecution wrote in a letter to Forrest this week that while Silk Road may have officially prohibited illicit services such as child pornography, contract killings and hacking operations, it paved the way for other sites on the Dark Web.
The Dark Web, also known as Darknet, is a haven for serious criminal activity according to some prosecutors and government agencies.
In the letter, the prosecution wrote “Ulbricht did not merely commit a serious crime in his own right. He developed a blueprint for a new way to use the Internet to undermine the law and facilitate criminal transactions. Using that blueprint, others have followed in Ulbricht’s footsteps, establishing new ‘dark markets’ in the mold of Silk Road, some selling an even broader range of illicit goods and services than Silk Road itself.”