Ross Ulbricht, founder of the online drug-trade website Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison without parole this May. Ulbricht founded Silk Road in 2011, which eventually grew to be the world’s largest online drug marketplace. It operated in a seedy corner of the Internet, known as the “dark web”.
The “dark web” refers to the mysterious criminal underbelly of the Internet where users can purchase a wide variety of illegal good and services such as narcotics, firearms, hacked bank account information, false identifications — even hired assassinations. Silk Road made a name for itself as one of the largest marketplaces for illegal goods on the Internet with roughly one millions active users. The online drug haven allowed users to conduct small-scale and large-scale transactions without detection from the authorities. Essentially, Silk Road was a utopian society for drug dealers and buyers. It provided all of the drugs and money dealers could hope for while allowing users to remain virtually anonymous.
The anonymity came from the usage of a Tor browser, that is, a search engine that prevents online surveillance and tracking. It protects its users from online traffic analysis and allowed Silk Road’s users to purchase and sell large amounts of drugs without the U.S. government being able to track where these users were located. Silk Road also used the new digital currency called Bitcoin, which holds no personal data. This made purchasing completely anonymous, because it didn’t require any bank account information like other online platforms that used credit and debit card information.
Ross Ulbricht was only 29 years old when he started Silk Road. He was a physics major at the University of Texas at Dallas. He was described as being a smart and charming individual. Prior to establishing Silk Road, Ulbricht had ventured into working as a financial advisor and had failed with a few business start-ups. After his last business venture, “Good Wagon,” an online bookstore that sold used books, declined, he started Silk Road. Silk Road created an online platform where buying and selling drugs was made easy using a model similar to that of Amazon or eBay.
From February of 2011 through October 2013, Ulbricht operated under the screen name Dread Pirate Roberts as the administrator on Silk Road. According to reports, Ulbricht oversaw $1.2 billion in drug transactions on Silk Road and even took as much as 10 percent in commissions. He was convicted of two charges of narcotic distribution, four conspiracy counts and one count of continuing and operating a criminal enterprise. He pleaded not guilty to all counts and will appeal the guilty ruling.
Two parents of Silk Road customers appeared in court to testify against Ulbricht. In both cases, the customers were young — 16 and 26 years old. The 16-year-old was a boy from Perth, Australia who purchased a synthetic drug from the site and ended up jumping out of a hotel window to his death. In the other case, the 26-year-old overdosed on heroin and was found dead with a syringe in his arm in front of a computer with the Silk Road webpage on the screen.
Ulbricht’s defense argued that he took violence off the streets by creating an anonymous drug marketplace, but the judge showed no mercy in his case, despite his admission of guilt. “I’ve essentially ruined my life and broke the heart of every member of my family and all my closest friends,” he said. “I’m so sorry. Your honor, I wouldn’t want to be in your position but I am here and ready for whatever sentence you think is wise.”
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest stated to Ulbricht, “What you did was unprecedented and in breaking that ground you now sit here and pay the price for that….You’re a criminal. This wasn’t a game, and you knew that.” Despite the defense’s claims suggesting that Ulbricht’s crimes were victimless, the judge stated that he was “no better than any other drug dealer.”
While Silk Road has made an example of how much the drug culture has become part of American society, it is a very small blip in the bigger picture of drug addiction in America. Addiction affects one out of every 10 Americans everyday and leaves millions of families in despair.
Sovereign Health Group is among the leading and most well-renowned drug addiction treatment providers in the country. We offer various inpatient and outpatient treatment programs across the country for patients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. If you know somebody who is struggling with drug addiction and is in need of treatment, please do not hesitate to call us at 888-530-4614. Our admissions helpline is open 24/7 and our treatment specialist will assist you in finding the right treatment option for you.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer