Why did Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht go to prison?

We recently covered Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) incarceration for his involvement in running the illegal marketplace Silk Road, and it has since been brought to my attention that not everyone is clear about what exactly it is that Mr Ulbricht did wrong in order to land himself in prison for an estimated 30 years.

So what did Ross Ulbricht do wrong?  In 2011 Ross Ulbricht designed the digital marketplace Silk Road, in what his defense attorney tried to pass off during the trial as an ‘economic experiment’.

The marketplace was designed to exist hidden within the dark web, in what is known as the Tor Project… a network of servers which only exists because of a large number of volunteers (about 4500 computers all over the world).

Although creating the marketplace itself would not have been illegal had it been used to sell furniture and clothes, because of the anonymous nature of its location it soon became an eBay for illegal products – mainly drugs and weapons (though it is believed even people were sold on Silk Road.)

It is for this reason that when Ross Ulbricht was arrested he was charged with –

  1. Engaging in a ‘narcotics, hacking and money-laundering conspiracy’
  2. Engaging in a ‘continuing criminal enterprise’
  3. Engaging in an illegal operation of which he was the leader, and in which he had 6 or more members under his charge  i.e. ‘kingpin statute’ (an indictment usually reserved for Mafia leaders and the like)
  4. Making financial gains from the above (illegal) activities.

Although at one point Ross Ulbricht was also charged with 6 attempted murder charges, in the end these were all dropped.

So, in order to be absolutely clear as to why Mr Ulbricht was found guilty by a jury in just 3 and a half hours in this cut and dry case, lets look at what is meant by the above charges, and what Mr Ulbricht should have done to remain legal:

If Ross Ulbricht had closed down Silk Road when it became obvious that it was being used for illegal purposes, and handed over any data that he had to the authorities, he might not be in jail today, and it is for this reason that he was charged with the conspiracy charges, i.e. full knowledge and cooperation in illegal activities (point 1.)

If he had stopped Silk Road from running before the time of his arrest, he would not have been charged with crime number 2 (continuing criminal enterprise i.e. the fact that Silk Road was still up and running and under his charge at the time of his arrest.)

Finally, if Mr Ulbricht had not so blatantly and obviously been caught giving other Silk Road operatives – working under himself –  advice about how not to end up in prison (e.g. when he told operatives to use public WiFi hotspots in order to remain as anonymous as possible, and on top of that advised them to never have their backs turned to the room when using these public places – which is both an admission on Mr Ulbricht’s part of knowingly taking part in illegal activities, and also an example of his seniority within Silk Roads operational framework), then he would not have been charged with the very serious ‘kingpin’ charges – indictment number 3.

If you do not feel that Ross Ulbricht did anything wrong (even though, as is noted in point 4, he amassed a personal wealth of $3.4 million (about $20,000 a day in Bitcoin commissions) from being the owner and executor of Silk Road’s illegal marketplace,)  or want to know more about why his defense attorney feels it was an unfair trial (his mother certainly does not feel it was a fair trial, or that he deserved the kingpin charges) then feel free to join the Free Ross Ulbricht campaign!

Ray Walsh I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR. I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality, and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood, and love to listen to trap music.

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One response to “Why did Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht go to prison?

  1. i don’t see why or how this person does not fully deserve the sentence. the misery he added to the lives of unfortunates [ trafficked people!!]and the profits he made from a criminal operation justify it. had he for example used this amazing facility for the public benefit—-and exposed high level corruption, direction and manipulation of the public by providing a proper anonymity for whistleblowers, then he would have enlisted the support of millions.

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