Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht’s Life Sentence Appeal Rejected

Ross Ulbricht, the founder of a once-thriving online marketplace for drug transactions, has been sentenced to life in prison by Judge Katherine B. Forrest in a Federal District Court. The founder of Silk Road made efforts to avoid spending the rest of his life behind bars by challenging the judgment with an appeal — however, the Silk Road creator had his appeal shot down by an appellate court, according to Tech Crunch.

The 33-year-old was found guilty on seven charges, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, narcotics conspiracy, and money laundering in 2015. In addition to this, a “kingpin” charge was added on. This is generally withheld for leaders of major drug cartels.

The evidence found to link Ulbricht to the site was abundant. Ulbricht owned the PGP email signature used to sign messages from the “Dread Pirate Roberts.” The website operated from the years 2011-2013 and represented a revolutionary change in illegal drug trafficking.

Buyers and sellers conducted deals that valued at roughly $183 million dollars. The collective deals were done in an obscure area of the internet through the Tor Network. This digital system made exchanges difficult to trace. For added protection, all of the transactions were conducted in Bitcoin, an anonymous digital currency.


The Silk Road admin and witnesses recall him asking for help for his “website where people can buy drugs.” The minimum sentence in his case is 20 years. The death penalty has been ruled out. Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Ross created a completely new way to use the internet to undermine the law.

“He developed a blueprint for a new way to use the Internet to undermine the law and facilitate criminal transactions.”

However, Ulbricht called himself naive in a letter to the judge. Judge Forrest didn’t accept his self-assessment. Instead, she called Ulbricht’s Silk Road “a carefully planned life’s work… It was your opus.”

Federal investigators arrested Ulbricht in a San Francisco public library after learning his identity, according to USA Today. Arresting agents took his laptop from his hands and confirmed he was operating the Silk Road website and was in communication with an undercover investigator who had infiltrated the operation.

Supporters of Ross William Ulbricht hold signs during the jury selection for his trial outside of federal court in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. Murder-for-hire allegations are central to Ulbrichtt's trial. He is charged with running an online black market where drugs were sold as easily as books and electronics. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

According to Ulbricht’s legal team, the IP addresses central to the case were gathered without a warrant and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Dratel argued that Judge Katherine Forrest made a number of legal errors during the trial. One of which included suppressed evidence of internet traffic to Ulbricht’s home router that investigators obtained without a court-approved warrant. However, the appeals court ultimately did not rule in his favor.

Dratel also contended the defense was blocked from presenting evidence that a former Secret Service agent (who helped investigate Silk Road) was himself investigated for stealing Bitcoins from Ulbricht.

Shaun Bridges tried to steal 20,000 bitcoins (worth $350,000 then and $46 million today) and was handed a six-year prison sentence. The other agent is Carl Mark Force who was sentenced to 6.5 years for trying to sell Ulbricht information about the Silk Road case itself.

The appeals court also rejected those arguments and ruled that Ulbricht’s punishment was not unreasonable.

“Although we might not have imposed the same sentence ourselves… on the facts of this case a life sentence was within the range of permissible decisions.”


Ulbricht’s particularly harsh sentence for a nonviolent crime is reportedly due to the massive scale at which the Silk Road facilitated the drug trade. The verdict came after prosecutors presented testimony about lives ruined by Silk Road drug trade. In addition to this, there was evidence presented that Ulbricht commissioned five murders-for-hire to protect his site from informants.

According to Wired, Judge Katherine Forrest explained at the time that Ulbricht’s life sentence was intended also to send a message to future dark web drug kingpins. However, sales on Silk Road successor websites have doubled following Ulbricht’s sentence due to raised awareness of the dark web drug market.

[Featured Image by Spencer Pratt/AP Images]