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Silk Road Ends at 2nd Circuit: Founder's Life Sentence Upheld

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Ross William Ulbricht, founder of the notoriously successful Silk Road, didn't want the fame. He just wanted the fortune.

He didn't even want anyone to know that he created the website, which did more than $180 million in business in just a few years, for people to make "darknet" purchases. He worked anonymously because, after all, it was a drug-trafficking site.

The government discovered his real identity, however, and sent him to jail for life. Now a federal appeals court has affirmed the sentence.

Can't Search This

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Ulbricht's claims that the government's search warrant for his computer was too broad.

"Ulbricht used his laptop to commit the charged offenses by creating and continuing to operate Silk Road," the court said. "Thus, a broad warrant allowing the government to search his laptop for potentially extensive evidence of those crimes does not offend the Fourth Amendment..."

He was arrested in 2013 at a San Francisco public library as he was doing Silk Road business online. Pursuant to a search warrant, agents seized his laptop and discovered "overwhelming" evidence against him, including $18 million in bitcoin currency from drug transactions.

He was convicted on multiple counts for drug trafficking and money laundering. With evidence that he had paid $650,000 to contract killers to protect his enterprise, prosecutors and probation recommended life in prison.

No Dead Bodies

They never found evidence of murders actually happening, and so he was not charged in the case for ordering the killings. But that didn't change his life sentence, which will likely survive any more appeals.

His lawyers had argued the sentence was too harsh, more an example to deter other dark web crimes. Strangely, his infamous case actually boosted illegal drug sales on the internet.

In the British Journal of Criminology, Boston College sociologist Isak Ladegaard presents strong evidence that the dark web drug trade actually received a sales bump following Ulbricht's surprisingly harsh sentence.

"The data suggests that trade increased," he says. "And one likely explanation is that all the media coverage only made people more aware of the existence of the Silk Road and similar markets."

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