Silk Road Mastermind Ross Ulbricht Sentenced To Life In Prison

from the just-another-drug-dealer,-no-more,-no-less dept

Ross Ulbricht, the man behind the darkweb drug marketplace known as the Silk Road, has just been sentenced to more imprisonment than he has actual lives: two life sentences and “max sentences on all other charges.” In addition, the government has chosen to hold him financially culpable for every single transaction that occurred at the Silk Road — a fine of $184 million — $166 million of which it has already recouped through the auction of seized Bitcoins.

Ulbricht had argued for leniency, arguing his online market “reduced harm” by moving the sale of drugs off the street. This argument was greeted with contempt by the presiding judge, who called Ulbricht’s actions “thoughtful and calculated” and Ulbricht no different than a “dangerous dealer” pushing drugs in the Bronx. She also dismissed his argument as a “privileged fantasy,” stating “There’s no way Silk Road could reasonably be expected to reduce violence.”

His last-ditch attempt to rely on the kindness of the court failed just as spectacularly as most of his legal arguments during the course of the prosecution. This is how it ends (pending appeal) for The Internet’s Own Drug Dealer: a maximum sentencing coda, bringing closure to a cautionary tale of darkweb exploits, nearly non-existent operational security and a government that seemed to regularly color outside the lines of normal investigative techniques. While the story is certainly colorful and with a tech edge not normally associated with drug trafficking, Ulbricht’s legal fate is ultimately no different than any “dangerous Bronx drug dealer.”

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Companies: silk road

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Comments on “Silk Road Mastermind Ross Ulbricht Sentenced To Life In Prison”

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51 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

A little context

Ross Ulbricht, who created and ran a marketplace to sell illegal drugs, is sentenced to two life sentences, along with “max sentences on all other charges”, and is held personally responsible for every single sale made.

Large banks, who launder money for drug cartels, aren’t prosecuted at all, because the government sees them as ‘too big to prosecute’, and the potential economic harm too large should they do so.

Other than one of the people involved in leaking the details of it, not a single person in the US involved in the kidnapping, torture, and at times murder of enemy combatants and even civilians has faced any charges at all, without even an investigation into a single one of them.

So, to sum up:

Operate a marketplace where illegal drugs are sold: Two life sentences, held financially personally responsible for each and every sale.

Launder money for drug sellers: No investigation, no charges brought.

Order or perform the kidnapping, torture, and murder of prisoners and/or civilians: No investigation, no charges brought.

As the US ‘justice’ system, truly an icon of fair treatment for all, no matter their crime, position, or the size of their bank account. /s

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: A little context

Define ‘large’. As in, was it even 1% of their net worth?

If I’ve got a million in the bank, and a court fines me $100, that’s not even going to give me a moment of pause, and it’s certainly not going to act as punishment, or even a deterrent, and I imagine any ‘fines’ they paid were similarly minuscule.

And to make clear, it wasn’t an ‘anti-establishment’ rant, so much as a ‘Disgusted with the low-court/high-court system we’ve got’ rant, mixed in with a hefty dose of disgust at how utterly insane the entire drug ‘war’ is and the laws related to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A little context

Large banks, who launder money for drug cartels, aren’t prosecuted at all, because the government sees them as ‘too big to prosecute’, and the potential economic harm too large should they do so.

There are no prosecutions because the illegal drug economy is, for the most part, a set of competing state-run businesses. It is bigger than oil and of similar importance geostrategically. Go read the Wikipedia article ‘Afghanistan opium production’. Then search YouTube for ‘US Marines Guard Opium In Afghanistan’.

Anonymous Coward says:

bloody ridiculous! no way should he have received something like this for a sentence! when you consider what he did in relation to what the head of a security agency recently did and the harm that could have come from what he did, getting him a sentence lighter than someone gets for shop lifting, it’s totally out of proportion! i can only assume the judge had been well briefed by the DoJ as to what way to read all evidence and what punishment should accompany each charge, otherwise he would have gotten 10 years with time off for good behavior!

flyinginn says:

Re: send a strong message

I agree, but the problem is that criminal law is not about ‘sending messages’ but about fair trial and consistent sentencing for defined offences. Sending messages is a political task. When judges start adapting legal procedure to suit political expedience, not only does it create injustice, it also damages public support for the judicial system.

tqk (profile) says:

The judge was just following orders.

… to the letter. The USA learned the Nazi fascists’ lessons well. It’s pretty sad that this is what passes for “independent judiciary” in the 21st century. We should be able to expect better from our rulers than this by now. I hope the judge enjoys their fruit of the poisoned tree.

BTW, “Ross Ulbricht, the man convicted of being behind the darkweb drug marketplace known as the Silk Road …” would’ve been better. I doubt very much that we’ve been told the whole story and it will be an interesting wait to hear the real truth behind this judicial travesty. It was a mess from the get go, and very much what I expect for Kim Dotcom re: Megaupload. This is a pathetic ghost of what we should expect from a justice system. It was fat-fingered from day one.

FighterFei (profile) says:

Objectively speaking...

I don’t think anybody here is going to argue that what he did was a crime. Not seriously anyway. His other crimes aside, it’s indisputable that he ran the Silk Road operation; and it was an operation. It isn’t like he was your dealer down the street either. Given the scale of it, it’s easier to compare it to a store or distribution center and I can see the penalties for that causing the sentencing to be ratcheted up.

His conviction is little more than a hollow victory given the serious issues surrounding the investigation and litigation of Ulbricht. I’m sure he can appeal this and have a good chance of sticking it to them. Which is a serious problem because he’s guilty and everybody knows he’s guilty–I don’t disagree with the notion that he ought to be behind bars for it. With all of the issues surrounding the case, no matter how damning the evidence, it’s credible that he can get off on a technicality and that’s a problem.

The sentencing is incredible, and I’m sure it was set more to make an example out of him than anything. It looks steep because it’s meant to look steep. Whether or not the Silk Road itself should have been taken down or exploited by the police is up for debate–I think more good could have been done by leaving it intact with discrete handling, but it’s not a hard argument to make that such a thing likely wouldn’t be able to last very long.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Objectively speaking...

I don’t think anybody here is going to argue that what he did was a crime.

Doing something which has been made illegal is a crime by definition. It shouldn’t have been made illegal. We proved long ago that Prohibition lead to far worse problems than people drinking ethyl alcohol, which is why it was repealed. Our current form of Prohibition is causing horrible problems which should appall everyone. Babies are finding stun grenades blowing up in their faces. Civilian “Officers of the Peace” are carrying military weapons, arriving on scene in tanks, and shooting people who reach for their wallet or cellphone. Minorities are treated like !@#$ on the street by police, because they might be “holding.” This is not how police should be acting. This is how an occupying military force acts.

His other crimes aside, it’s indisputable that he ran the Silk Road operation; and it was an operation.

It’s not indisputable. The defense was gagged at every opportunity. The judge was on the prosecution’s side from the beginning and shot down every attempt to counter with their side, “because drugs.” The judge’s summation is a perfect example.

Ulbricht’s hiring a hit on the guy he thought was selling him out is all he should be held accountable for. What’s that, twenty years? Instead, he’ll never again see freedom in his lifetime.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Objectively speaking...

Also, if there are so many stoned people higher than a kite on illicit drugs in the world, that makes it tough on governments to find angry people to fight wars globally on all sides.

If only we could get all the jerks who want to start wars stoned permanently, we wouldn’t need to inconvenience the rest.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Disgusting

people have been conditioned to accept whatever the state tells them to do.

9/11 really was a boon to the autocratic authority types. Gave them all the fear they needed to force through previously unpopular and unconstitutional methods for controlling that which they did not like but could not act on.

This case for example the judge takes the prosecutions word without investigating if they are lying about anything because he probably believes the government is always right, because they only have the interests of the people at heart. he has been conditioned to think like this.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Legal truth

It’s not indisputable. The defense was gagged at every opportunity. The judge was on the prosecution’s side from the beginning and shot down every attempt to counter with their side, “because drugs.” The judge’s summation is a perfect example

You do realize that this was a federal court, which is funded by the same government which prosecutes these cases?
The judge is naturally going to be on the prosecution’s side because it happens to be the federal government.

Conviction rates in federal court are very impressive..I think something like 99%, far more than any state court does. The government almost never loses a case they bring unless there’s extremely mitigating circumstances..and even then they still get a win.

That’s the way this system works. Ulbricht never stood a chance in hell of not being convicted.

The sentence? I don’t really know if it will deter more from not doing the same, but not everyone lives in the US, either.

But I do know what he did was not some ‘naive mistake.’ It was a determined and greedy effort to distribute drugs primarily. He stated that in his logs, for heaven’s sake.

He knew what he was doing was illegal, damnit! He was well aware of the penalties for it, and if he wasn’t, he is the most naive fool that ever lived.

I think he was very conscious of the reality, which included him establishing stringent security measures on SR, and that indicates some culpability and intention to break the laws as they stand.

So he played a dangerous game he knew could destroy him.

He lost. We should not feel sorry for him.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Legal truth

You do realize that this was a federal court, which is funded by the same government which prosecutes these cases? The judge is naturally going to be on the prosecution’s side because it happens to be the federal government.

Is this cynicism, because a judge being naturally on the prosecution’s side doesn’t sound like justice to me. Judges are supposed to be impartially interpreting the law. What’s the point of a trial if not so? Just shoot the fscker if that’s the situation. Who’s going to complain?

You’re describing the Nazi court system which was told what to do by its political masters.

I’m not yet cynical enough to believe the US has morphed into Nazi Germany. They’re trying, I admit, but they’re not there yet.

Tom Czerniawski (profile) says:

Re: Re: Legal truth

Oh, I don’t know; once you’re living in a country with the planet’s biggest prison system, and a ring of clandestine torture prisons dotted around the world, and a tendency to launch wars that kill millions entirely over lies, and police that summarily execute a thousand of your fellow citizens each year, you can safely call it Nazi Germany and not be mistaken.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Legal truth

… you can safely call it Nazi Germany and not be mistaken.

Not yet, I don’t think. Call me Pollyanna, but the US has bounced back from crap like this before, and it can do it again. We’ve a lot more power on our side now too to keep our politico-critters in line, what with the Internet and all. They can blather all they like, but they can’t get away with lies like Goebels spouted in his day for very long.

It’s not a little insulting to Germany too, considering the lengths they’ve gone to in shucking off that BS. I’m glad the Nazis lost, and I’m even more glad that modern Germans are nothing like Nazi Germany. It was a temporary aberration; a very destructive one, but a temporary one.

The US, on the other hand, is just getting started. This could yet turn out to be the worst century ever at this rate. Obama is currently freaking out about the NSA potentially losing its illegal ability to ignore the 4th amendment, ffs.

Contemporary civilization is on the knife edge of going forward, or falling back into hell for all, but we are not there yet and still can stop the darkness if we just keep on fighting it. All’s not lost. I hope.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Legal truth

“Call me Pollyanna, but the US has bounced back from crap like this before, and it can do it again. We’ve a lot more power on our side now too to keep our politico-critters in line, what with the Internet and all.”

OK, Pollyanna. But I agree with you. The US has been in much worse situations a number of times in history and have able to correct the problem. It’s a long, hard slog, but worth it.

And you’re also right that we’re in a much better position this time around, as ordinary people have access to much more powerful tools than ever before.

While I expect that things will not get better soon, I am very optimistic that they will get better eventually. As long as we keep pushing for it.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Legal truth

It was a determined and greedy effort to distribute drugs primarily. He stated that in his logs, for heaven’s sake.

“a determined and greedy effort” – an emotional argument if I ever heard one. He’s a libertarian. He was hoping to change the world. He doesn’t believe it should be illegal in the first place. Nor do I.

Sadly, we still inhabit a world where assholes have the power to tell us what’s allowed, and they’ll send us to prison when we act otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Legal truth

FM Hilton:

The conviction rate for federal courts in 2012 was 93%, which is the most recent year for which reliable data appears to exist. The conviction rate in Texas averages 84%, in California it averages 82%, with other states decreasing from there. So, your statement that federal courts have a conviction rate “far more than any state court does” is a bit imprecise.

It should be noted that budget cuts, which the federal courts have been faced with for much of the last decade, tend to drive conviction rates up, because only the cases which are most winable go to trial, and the others are not prosecuted.

Incidentally, conviction rates in a number of foreign countries, such as Japan, are quite high. Japan’s is greater than 99%.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Legal truth

Incidentally, conviction rates in a number of foreign countries, such as Japan, are quite high. Japan’s is greater than 99%.

Bad idea to go there. The Japanese judicial system and police have far fewer compunctions about offending rights of the accused. They’ll happily toss any accused into a dungeon and patiently wait for them to “come around.” The Japanese justice system is well known for expecting the accused to be good and want to confess their depravity.

Thousands of years of Samurai worshipping an emperor (believed to be a god) doesn’t wear off that quickly. There’s a good reason why Japanese rapes and other forms of bad crimes are almost unheard of. They really are not tolerated, with vengeance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Legal truth

TQK:

The point was not to hold Japan out as a model of conviction rates, merely to point out that the alleged high conviction rates of the US federal court system were not “far more” than many courts, both domestic and foreign. Regardless of the cultural reasons that Japan has a higher conviction rate, the rate exists, and it is nearly 100%.

Anonymous Coward says:

But he sold drugs ‘using a computer’! Computers scare the authorities, and people who are tech savvy and know how to use those computers scare them even more.

By authorities. I mean police, judges, politicians, and the rich who control them using money. I’m surprised he didn’t get a triple life sentence seeing as he committed the crime using a computer.

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