Underground marketplace owner Ross Ulbricht has lost a court appeal to have a new trial and now will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars.
Ulbricht, also known under the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in after being convicted of seven counts including drug trafficking, narcotics conspiracy, money laundering, and engaging in a criminal enterprise as the owner of the Silk Road marketplace.
The creator of Silk Road operated the website from 2011 to 2013 and was used by those seeking the sale or purchase of everything from stolen data to drugs, weapons, and hacking tools.
Accessible through the Dark Web, the US government estimates that between these dates, underground trades conducted through Silk Road generated roughly $183 million in Bitcoin, of which the owner received a commission on sales.
In a 2009 email, Ulbricht said Silk Road originally grew from the idea of creating an "an online storefront that couldn't be traced back to [him] . . . where [his] customers could buy [his] products" and pay for them "anonymously and securely."
In October 2013, US law enforcement set up a sting operation using an operative from the inside and arrested Ulbricht in a public library.
The 33-year-old's laptop was seized alongside USB drives containing copies of Silk Road documents, his private PGP key was discovered, and the police also seized roughly $18 million in Bitcoin from a wallet on Ulbricht's laptop. These funds were traced back to Silk Road servers located in Iceland.
Ulbricht was charged and sentenced in 2015 and filed his appeal in the same year, requesting for a new trial which would potentially result in a life sentence being set aside.
According to court documents, Ulbricht asked for a new trial on the basis that the district court made a mistake by rejecting his defenses' motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the court also made a series of errors which meant he did not receive a fair trial, and a sentence of life for his crimes is "substantively unreasonable."
In addition, Ulbricht claimed that the investigation was corrupt from the start, referring to former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Force, both of whom were involved and stole seized bitcoin.
The agents were sentenced to 71 months and 78 months in prison respectively, but according to Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, their conduct did not impact the conclusion of the case.
"Without question, the shocking personal corruption of these two government agents disgraced the agencies for which they worked and embarrassed the many honorable men and women working in those agencies to investigate serious criminal wrongdoing," Lynch said. "At the same time, the venality of individual agents does not necessarily affect the reliability of the government's evidence in a particular case or become relevant to the adjudication of every case in which the agents participated."
The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York, has decided to uphold the original sentence, potentially as a warning to others that are considering setting up the same kind of criminal enterprise.
Dread Pirate Roberts may not have been your traditional, stereotypical drug cartel overlord, but the severity of the sentence and utter refusal to consider lessening the jail term highlights how seriously prosecutors took Silk Road.
As the potential future of underground dealings and more difficult to track due to the Tor network and virtual currency, shutting down the popular trading post was a priority -- as was making sure potential future operators understand the consequences of being caught,