Ulbricht was sentenced on Friday by Judge Katherine B. Forrest for his role as what prosecutors described as “the kingpin of a worldwide digital drug-trafficking enterprise,” reported the New York Times.
The newspaper said the 31-year-old Ulbricht had faced at least 20 years in prison on one of the counts for which he was convicted. In announcing a much longer sentence, Judge Forrest told Ulbricht that “what you did in connection with Silk Road was terribly destructive to our social fabric.”
Transactions were made using Bitcoin and Ulbricht, using the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” garnered millions of dollars in commissions, prosecutors have said, reported the New York Times. Prosecutors stated that Ulbricht had “developed a blueprint for new way to use the Internet to undermine the law and facilitate criminal transactions,” and that his conviction was “the first of its kind, and his sentencing is being closely watched.”
Ulbricht was convicted in February on several charges, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and distributing narcotics on the Internet. In its case against Ulbricht, the government had alleged that he had solicited the murders of individuals he considered threats to his operation, and that at least six deaths were connected to drugs bought from Silk Road.
Addressing the judge at his sentencing in a Manhattan federal court, Ulbricht said, “I remember clearly why I created the Silk Road. I wanted to empower people to be able to make choices in their lives, for themselves and to have privacy and anonymity.”
As reported by the New York Times, Ulbricht added, “I’m not saying that because I want to justify anything that’s happened. I just want to set the record straight, because from my point of view, I’m not a self-centered sociopathic person that was trying to express some kind of inner badness. I just made some very serious mistakes.”
Judge Forrest acknowledged that Ulbricht did not fit a “typical criminal profile,” but added that “there must be no doubt that no one is above the law, no matter the education or the privileges. All stand equal before the law. There must be no doubt that you cannot run a massive criminal enterprise and, because it occurred over the Internet, minimize the crime committed on that basis.” Judge Forrest also ordered Ulbricht to forfeit $184 million.
The New York Times reported that after the proceeding, Joshua Dratel, one of Ulbricht’s lawyers, said the case would be appealed. “We have issues with the prejudice of uncharged unproven conduct that drive this sentence dramatically. It was not about the crime that he was convicted of. This was about appeals to emotion.” Dratel added, “I’m disappointed tremendously.”
Ulbricht’s mother said her son was “looking at his life being destroyed.”
“I know that if Ross walked out that prison tomorrow law enforcement would never hear from him again,” said Lyn Ulbricht, adding that “Ross is no more a threat to society than I am.”
During the trial, the defense argued that Ulbricht had created Silk Road but had passed it on to others before being lured back in and set up to take the fall. (The FBI shut down the site following Ulbricht’s arrest in 2013). Dratel had denied that Ulbricht was the real “Dread Pirate Roberts.”
The New York Times reported that Judge Forrest left no doubt that Ulbricht was behind the operation, planning it carefully and intending to fly in the face of the law. “You were captain of the ship as Dread Pirate Roberts and you made your own law.”
The judge dismissed the defense’s argument that because Silk Road was an online enterprise, it was safer than traditional street-level drug dealing. Judge Forrest described how the operation had expanded the drug market and user demand, and cited collateral damage, from the violence linked with drug production overseas to addiction, crime, and broken families. Silk Road was just “a step in the chain,” the judge said.