A sentence of life imprisonment has been handed down in the US to Ross Ulbricht, founder of black market selling platform Silk Road. The sentence came as a surprise to some degree, since it was even more severe than the one requested by the prosecution.
The Silk Road, which first launched in 2011, existed on what is called “the dark web” – a section of the internet only accessible through anonymous proxied internet connections. While there are also legitimate sites in the dark web, it is also where you will find the bulk of the internet’s illegal activity. Such activities can only practically take place in this anonymous environment, as on the mainstream internet such websites would quickly be shut down and their creators identified by law enforcement.
It was into this category of anonymous, illegal websites that The Silk Road fell. It served as a billion-dollar platform for buying a range of black market goods, predominantly illegal drugs. Ulbricht founded the site and operated it under the pseudonym “the Dread Pirate Roberts” in reference to a character from 1987 comedy film The Princess Bride. As well as illegal drugs, the site also sold fraudulent identity documents and other such items. There is a charge still waiting to be heard in Maryland relating to murder-for-hire services.
Identifying the origins and owners of websites on the dark web is difficult, but as one of the most prominent illegal trading platforms Silk Road received a comparatively large amount of attention from law enforcement bodies internationally. In 2013 US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was able to shut down the website and arrest Ulbricht, who had been successfully identified as the man behind the site.
Judge Katherine Forrest, in handing down the sentence, decided to go beyond even the requests of the prosecution and apply the full force of the law. As well as his sentence of life imprisonment, Ulbricht has been ordered to pay huge restitution payments. This restitution, estimated to be equivalent to the total value of drug and fake ID sales made through Silk Road, amounts to more than US$183 million (roughly £120 million). Sales of assets seized by authorities, predominantly virtual currency bitcoin through which Silk Road received payments, will be used to help meet these payments.
In sentencing Ulbricht, Forrest said: “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its…creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous.”
Ulbricht admitted the charges against him over the course of the trial, but had hoped for a lenient sentence. “I’ve changed. I’m not the man I was when I created Silk Road,” Ulbricht claimed. “I’m a little wiser, a little more mature, and much more humble”