The creator and chief operator of the Silk Road has been sentenced to two life sentences in jail for running the online drug marketplace, which federal prosecutors estimated facilitated the sales of more than US$213 million worth of drugs and other unlawful goods between 2011 and 2013.
The life sentences are to be served concurrently, along with a five-year sentence for hacking and twenty years for money laundering. The government is also seeking $183 million from Ulbricht based on the profits he made.
In February, Ross Ulbricht was found guilty of multiple charges related to the operation of Silk Road, including narcotics conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and money laundering. The narcotics and criminal enterprise charges carry maximum penalties of life in prison. Under current federal sentencing laws, Ulbricht faced at least 20 years behind bars.
On Friday, Ulbricht stood before District Judge Katherine Forrest for sentencing. Forrest oversaw the case, which was heard at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.
“Silk Road was terribly destructive to our social fabric,” Forrest told Ulbricht in court. The judge said sentencing was difficult: over 100 people had sent heartfelt, moving letters in defense of Ulbricht’s character. But that was offset by the severity of the offenses, and by the coldness with which he had sought to arrange the murders of five people.
For his part, an emotional Ulbricht tried to convince the judge that he had changed, saying, “I’m a little bit wiser and much more humble.”
But parents of two of the six people who died from drug overdoses linked to Silk Road purchases also made powerful victim impact statements. Both spoke in heartbreaking detail about the deaths of their children, and both asserted the victims would not have died had it not been for the easy accessibility of drugs on Silk Road.
Ulbricht has been jailed since his arrest in October 2013. He has fourteen days to appeal the sentence, and his attorney confirmed that he would do so.
Last week, Ulbricht filed a letter to the court asking for leniency. He expressed deep remorse for his actions, and vowed he would not break the law again.
“Silk Road turned out to be a very naive and costly idea that I deeply regret,” he wrote. “I will know firsthand the heavy price of breaking the law and will know better than anyone that it is not worth it.”
“I’ve had my youth, and I know you must take away my middle years, but please leave me my old age,” he wrote.
Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel had argued that federal prosecutors had little direct evidence of Ulbricht’s involvement with the site during the peak of its operations, claiming he had left the site for others to operate.
Ulbricht also faces a separate set Silk Road-related charges from federal prosecutors, to be heard in Maryland federal court, involving murder-for-hire and additional drug distribution allegations.