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Silk Road ‘Mastermind’ Ross Ulbricht to be Sentenced Friday Afternoon

NEW YORK CITY – On Friday afternoon, convicted Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht will find out how many years he will spend in prison for his role in the Silk Road online marketplace. With federal mandatory minimum sentences, Ulbricht is facing at least 20 years in prison.

In February, the Silk Road trial concluded as the jury reached a verdict of guilty on seven charges related to distributing narcotics, fraudulent documents, money laundering, and continuing a criminal enterprise. The jury took just three hours to convict Ulbricht on all charges. Now, US District Judge Katherine Forrest will weigh the evidence and decide what length of sentence to give Ulbricht.

At least 97 friends and family members of Ulbricht have written to the judge asking for the most lenient sentence possible. (Ars Technica has posted the letters online along with the court filing of photos of Ulbricht and many family and friends.) Ulbricht himself wrote the judge asking her to give him 20 years so he might still have his old age. The 31-year old tech genius faces prison until at least his early 50’s.

Despite Ulbricht’s defense team continuing to argue that he was not the Dread Pirate Roberts mastermind, but instead was “left holding the bag”, Ulbricht told the judge: “Silk Road turned out to be a very naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.” This marks the first time the public is hearing from Ulbricht directly.

Ulbricht has received support from the Drug Policy Alliance’s nightlife community engagement manager Stefanie Jones. On the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog, Jones asks whether or not putting Ulbricht behind bars will accomplish anything. She says the Silk Road actually was a beneficial market for three reasons:

  • Silk Road reduced the potential violence associated with buying drugs.
  • It allowed for better knowledge about content and purity.
  • It encouraged harm reduction among users.

Will Judge Katherine Forrest take a similar view? Just ten days ago, she asked for a copy of the Silk Road website so she could perform searches for what products were available for sale. The government produced a fully functioning replica of the site from the server.

Although the charges Ulbricht was found guilty of in New York City do not include the controversial “murder-for-hire” charge, the accusation has still weighed heavily in this current trial. Ulbricht will eventually be tried on those charges in a Maryland court but that did not stop the government from mentioning chat logs that detail five murder-for-hire plots. Still, prosecutors filed no charges in New York, possibly indicating a lack of evidence.

Throughout the trial Ulbricht’s supporters, family, and defense team said they were being blocked at every turn. Witnesses were not allowed, evidence was removed from the record, and many believe the jury could not have possibly had a grip on the emerging technologies that played a large role in the trial- namely Bitcoin, the Tor Browser, and the Deep Web.

Another point of contention came in late March after two former federal agents were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars during their investigation of the Silk Road. The two defendants are Carl Force, a former special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Shaun Bridges, a former Secret Service special agent. Force and Bridges were assigned to a task force based in Baltimore investigating Silk Road. Force was the lead investigator working undercover, and Bridges was a computer forensics expert working on the case.

According to a press release from the Justice Department, Force “served as an undercover agent and was tasked with establishing communications with a target of the investigation, Ross Ulbricht, aka ‘Dread Pirate Roberts.’” Force was authorized to communicate with Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) online to gather information, but he allegedly went on to create several unauthorized, fictitious online identities.

“The Government’s efforts to keep the Carl Force scandal out of the public eye at trial is in itself scandalous,” said Joshua Horowitz, a defense attorney for Ulbricht. “The recently filed Complaint which names Carl Force as a defendant demonstrates that the Government’s investigation of Mr. Ulbricht lacked integrity, and was wholly and fatally compromised from the inside.””

Whether any of the latest revelations will have any effect remains to be seen. The fate of Ross Ulbricht now lies in the hands of Judge Katherine Forrest. Will the effects of this trial have a chilling effect on the internet and stifle new innovation, as some believe?

Ross Ulbricht will be sentenced in New York City at 1:30 pm EST. Derrick Broze will be attending the sentencing and will appear on RT America this evening to discuss the outcome. For the latest updates follow Broze on Twitter @DBrozeLiveFree