The creator of the original Silk Road dark web marketplace yesterday lost an appeal against his life prison sentence, meaning he will now likely spend the rest of his days behind bars with no prospect of parole.
Ross Ulbricht, who went by the nom de guerre Dread Pirate Roberts while running the hidden website, must now reconcile himself to the likelihood of dying in prison after a federal appeals court in New York rejected a claim that his 2015 conviction and sentence were unfair.
A panel of judges ruled that while the jail term Ulbricht received might have been harsher than they would have handed down themselves, it fell within the limits of sentencing guidelines.
“Ulbricht profited from every sale on Silk Road, and he facilitated the acts of each drug dealer and drug organisation that used it,” the judges said.
“Moreover, he attempted to commission at least five murders to protect his criminal enterprise.
“Those facts render his case distinguishable from those who committed other crimes using Silk Road or otherwise facilitated its operation.”
Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht’s defence lawyer, declined to comment on the court’s ruling.
Ulbricht had argued his conviction violated his Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures of property.
He also claimed he had made the illegal drugs market safer for buyers when he created the site, allowing them to purchase illegal substances from the comfort of their own homes, and make use of an eBay-style feedback system to the quality of products offered by sellers.
Displaying some level of sympathy with Ulbricht’s position, the judges wrote: “It is very possible that, at some future point, we will come to regard these policies as tragic mistakes and adopt less punitive and more effective methods of reducing the incidence and costs of drug use.
“At this point in our history, however, the democratically elected representatives of the people have opted for a policy of prohibition, backed by severe punishment.”
During his initial trail, Ulbricht’s defence lawyers had hoped to negotiate a 20-year tariff.
Despite the fact prosecutors had not sought a whole life-term without the prospect of parole, US District Judge Katherine Forrest handed Ulbricht the harshest possible penalty, telling him she had to make an example of him in order to deter others from following in his footsteps.
Forrest’s deterrent motive was called into question last month when a study revealed that dark web drug sales more than doubled after Ulbricht was jailed.
Researchers found that global dark web drug sales rocketed from $100,000 (€89,000) a day to $250,000 following Ulbricht’s sentencing.
At the time of his 2013 arrest in a San Francisco public library, FBI agents discovered 30,000 bitcoins on Ulbricht’s laptop, which would today be worth more than €64 million.
In all, users of the original Silk Road marketplace are thought to have conducted deals worth an estimated $183 million over the two years it operated.