On May 29, 2015, after a lengthy criminal investigation and multi-week trial, Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road—one of the most famous enterprises to utilize Bitcoin currency—was sentenced to life in prison in a Manhattan federal courtroom.
In 2011, Ulbricht founded Silk Road, an anonymous, online marketplace where everything from guns to drugs could be bought and sold. It was like the black market version of eBay. Until it was raided by the federal government in 2013, Silk Road was reported to have facilitated more than 1.5 million transactions between thousands of different user accounts.
Before long, Ulbricht, otherwise known as Dread Pirate Roberts, drew national attention. Here was a 30 year old, ordinary guy, caught running one of the most notorious businesses in the world. Ulbricht vehemently denied that he was the same Dread Pirate Roberts who coordinated thousands of illegal transactions and ordered a hit on one of his “employees.” Ulbricht claimed that he eventually handed Silk Road (and the moniker of Dread Pirate Roberts) off to someone else, and that he had started it only as an “economic experiment.”
The jury did not buy his story. In February 2015, a jury deliberated a mere three and half hours before convicting Ulbricht of seven counts: trafficking drugs on the internet, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy, running a continuing criminal enterprise, computer-hacking conspiracy, and money-laundering conspiracy. According to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, Ulbricht was recommended to receive life imprisonment with a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. The Probation Office also recommended life imprisonment. In the Government’s Sentencing Submission, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York requested the Court to “impose a lengthy sentence, one substantially above the 20-year mandatory minimum.”
The Court obliged. On Friday afternoon, Katherine B. Forrest, District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York, followed the Sentencing Guidelines’ recommendation and sentenced Ulbricht to life imprisonment. Judge Forrest also ordered Ulbricht to pay forfeiture in excess of $180 million.
Ulbricht’s legal team will undoubtedly appeal his sentence and conviction. However, the story of Silk Road, its rise and fall, cast of characters, and imprint on the digital currency community may have reached some semblance of finality with Ulbricht’s sentence.