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Ross Ulbricht, Founder of Darknet Site Silk Road Sentenced to Life in Prison

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind darknet marketplace Silk Road, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of a parole. Ignoring his plea of a lighter sentence, District Court Judge Katherine Forrest slapped the 31 year old Texan with two life sentences and also ordered him to pay a restitution of 183 million dollars. Ross, who used the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts” online, was pronounced guilty for all the seven crimes that he was accused of which included some pretty serious charges like computer hacking, money laundering, running a criminal organization as well as conspiracy to traffic drugs and have people killed.

Silk Road was operational as a black market for illicit goods from February’ 2011 until it was shut down by the FBI in October’ 2013. Unlike mainstream ecommerce sites, Silk Road could be accessed only through the anonymity software Tor which meant buyers and sellers could carry out their transactions without being monitored by the government or the law enforcement agencies. In addition, the site used bitcoins as a medium of transaction which provided further anonymity to all the buyers and sellers.

Although Silk Road dealt in a variety of goods, it was primarily known as a drug marketplace since drugs accounted for over 70% of the listed items. Banned substances such as cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, steroids, opoids, hash, stimulants, weed and prescription drugs were freely available in the marketplace and buyers and sellers were able to transact freely due to the privacy protection provided by the website. However, unlike other darknet marketplaces, buying and selling of stolen credit cards, weapons, assassinations and material related to child pornography were strictly prohibited. Once the transaction was complete, buyers could even rate the services of the sellers just like normal ecommerce sites.

Before the authorities seized the website, it is estimated that the Silk Road marketplace facilitated over 1.5 million transactions; including more than a million drug related transactions. The transaction value of the goods sold through the site is thought to be well over 200 million dollars which dwarfs the operations of most legit online businesses.

Ross, in his defense, termed the whole Silk Road affair as an economic experiment that was designed to encourage freedom. His defense team also argued that the marketplace actually reduced the dangers associated with real-life drug transactions and that Ross had handed over the operations of the site to someone else long time ago. However, the judge termed the creation and running of the site as a well-planned scheme that posed danger to the public health and exploited people’s addictions through demand-expanding operations.

The fact that at least six people died due to the drugs purchased through the site and Ross earned commission on every transaction that occurred via the marketplace (earning him over 16 million dollars between 2011-13) didn’t help his case either. The prosecution further fortified their case by including the testimony of parents and close relatives of the people who perished by consuming drugs bought from the Silk Road. In addition, they presented Ross’ personal journal and code obtained from his laptop which clearly established that Ross was indeed the man behind the online handle “Dread Pirate Roberts” who ran the Silk Road marketplace.

Ever since Ross was indicted in February, it was clear that he would be sent behind bars for a long long time. However, the magnitude of the punishment has surprised many legal experts and has reignited debated about freedom on the internet. It is clear that the authorities wanted to make an example out of Ross and deter others from dabbling in similar ventures. However, some security experts believe that the verdict would force criminals to take extra precautions and make illicit transactions occurring on the dark web even harder to detect.

If you want to support the Ross Ulbricht legal fund, you can donate at: http://freeross.org/

June 6, 2015

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