Ross Ulbricht, the man behind illegal online drug emporium Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday by Judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan’s US district court for the southern district of New York.
Before the sentencing the parents of the victims of drug overdoses addressed the court. Ulbricht broke down in tears. ‘I never wanted that to happen’ he said. ‘I wish I could go back and convince myself to take a different path’.
The 31-year-old physics graduate and former boy scout was handed five sentences: one for 20 years – one for 15 years – one for five and two for life. All are to be served concurrently with no chance of parole.
The judge handed out the most severe sentence available to the man US authorities identified as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ pseudonymous founder of an Amazon-like online market for illegal goods.
‘The stated purpose [of Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist. You were captain of the ship- the dread Pirate Roberts. You made your own laws’ Forrest told Ulbricht as she read the sentence.
Ulbrict had begged the judge to ‘leave a light at the end of the tunnel’ ahead of his sentence. ‘I know you must take away my middle years – but please leave me my old age’ he wrote to Forrest this week. Prosecutors wrote Forrest a 16-page letter requesting the opposite: ‘[A] lengthy sentence – one substantially above the mandatory minimum is appropriate in this case.”
‘I’ve changed. I’m not the man I was when I created Silk Road. I’m a little wiser. A little more mature and much more humble’ Ulbricht pled in court.
Forrest rejected arguments that Silk Road had reduced harm among drug users by taking illegal activities off the street. ‘No drug dealer from the Bronx has ever made this argument to the court. It’s a privileged argument and it’s an argument made by one of the privileged’ she said.
Silk Road was once the largest ‘dark web’ marketplace for illegal drugs and other services. In March 2013 the secret site listed 10,000 items for sale – 7,000 of which were drugs including cannabis – MDMA – and heroin. Prosecutors said Silk Road had generated nearly $213.9m (£140m) in sales and $13.2m in commissions before police shut it down.