Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life in prison, without parole

News reportOuch. That’s got to sting.

Ross Ulbricht probably knew he was going to have the book thrown at him, but I’ll bet he had a shred of hope that it wouldn’t be quite so heavy.

As USA Today reports, 31-year-old Ulbricht has been sentenced by a US federal judge to two life prison terms without parole.

Ulbricht, as you will surely recall, was the mastermind behind the notorious dark web Silk Road marketplace which made ordering drugs or illegal weapons about as easy as buying a book on Amazon.

Guns for sale on the Silk Road

In February, Ulbricht was found guilty of trafficking drugs via the net. In addition he was convicted of conspiracy for trafficking narcotics, computer hacking, money laundering, and running an enterprise that illegally generated an eye-watering $1.2 billion worth of drug transactions.

Now, Ulbricht has received a stiff sentence – including two terms of life in prison and three lesser sentences.

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In addition to the prison sentences, Ulbricht (who styled himself “Dread Pirate Roberts” when anonymously running the Silk Road) has been told he will have to forfeit $184 million of the $187 million his site had made before it was shut down upon his arrest.

Ulbricht apologised and pleaded for leniency from Judge Katherine Forrest, but she doesn’t appear to have been particularly moved:

“I don’t think you did something thoughtless. I think you did something very thoughtful.”

There’s a tragedy here without a doubt.

There’s tragedy for those people whose family members died as a result of the drugs that Ulbricht’s Silk Road marketplace allegedly sold to them. The court heard accounts of six drug-overdose deaths involving people who had purchased illegal narcotics from the Silk Road site, and heard moving impact statements from victims.

It’s hard to imagine the grief that those families must have endured, and will continue to haunted with for the rest of their lives.

There’s heartbreak for Ulbricht’s family and loved ones, who through no fault of their own have lost someone they care for to the prison system for many many years.

And let’s not forget Ulbricht himself.

Ross Ulbricht

His life has gone down the plughole, and he’s looking at spending many many years in prison. Which is a tragedy – even if you believe he deserves it.

There will no doubt be those who say “At least he still has life, unlike some of those who died as a result of the drugs that he helped sell.”

And that’s a fair opinion, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Ulbricht’s life should never have gone this route.

By all accounts Ulbricht had the business acumen and technology know-how to have helped create a legitimate dot com business, and made his fortune that way. Instead, he chose to break the law and put people’s lives at risk.

Don’t be dumb kids. If you have the skills, put them to a legitimate, constructive positive purpose and hope to get some satisfaction and maybe the reward you’re looking for that way. Don’t make the world a sadder place than it already is.

Further reading:

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

2 comments on “Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life in prison, without parole”

  1. Bonkers

    It's a shame that despite your genuine interest in freedoms generally, you choose to condemn this man.
    Almost any form of recreation carries risk, $1.2 billion spent on petrol, mountaineering, water sports, even simple exercise would cause many more deaths than the 8 tearfully reported here.
    Silk road has offered the means to eliminate much of the risk associated with drug use and to take the money away from big criminals, something 40 years of "war on drugs" has failed to do.

    Compare the current attitudes towards recreational drug use to those once held against homosexuality, both considered perverse and depraved yet practised by consenting adults in private without intention of harm to others.

    1. Coyote · in reply to Bonkers

      You're missing the point, though. But first: you note the war on drugs still exists, and note also that crime will be everywhere (unrelated to drugs). In addition, the black market still existed there, it is just different people got money from it (and I imagine some of the people buying there would opt to resell). So there's no difference except where the market is – virtual versus physical. Until the source of the black market is removed completely, there can't be any repair. But even then it will take a long time before the damage can be healed. The war on drugs is the source.

      I don't think the issue of homosexuality is over, either. Not by a long shot. It's regrettable but it is different and things that are different are often targets of any number of things (including negativity). Look at how long it took to pardon Turing, for example. Yet there's still much opposition to marriage aside from man and woman.

      Yes, the amount of deaths here is minimal. But that happens with drugs anyway, unrelated to the violence or the war on drugs. ODs tend to be drastic and that is even when they are accidental (I'll not even get in to the darkness of suicide for very personal reasons); for example, people not realising that you have to remove the patch before you put on another so that you don't get an OD of the analgesic (like morphine). It might seem obvious but it has occurred and caused death.

      The bottom line is this, though: he wasn't following the law, he made some really foolish decisions, he pays for it. His life is ruined but this is no different from other young people who have the same fate. But he isn't really condemning this person, is he?
      "And let's not forget Ulbricht himself."
      "There will no doubt be those who say "At least he still has life, unlike some of those who died as a result of the drugs that he helped sell."

      And that's a fair opinion, but it doesn't take away the fact that Ulbricht's life should never have gone this route."

      Doesn't that show you what he's getting at? There's no winners here is the point. We all make mistakes and this was a mistake that ruined his life. He's young and he has many years to think this over, to regret, to wish things had happened differently. He's not a winner at all, and that is a loss – imagine if he used it for good? That's ultimately the saddest part of the story – his family suffers and he suffers because of a really bad choice.

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