|Ross William Ulbricht|
Ulbricht's 2012 passport photo
March 27, 1984|
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Residence||Florence, Colorado U.S.|
|Other names||Dread Pirate Roberts, Frosty, Altoid, Inmate 18870-111|
University of Texas at Dallas (B.S. 2006)|
Pennsylvania State University (M.S. 2009)
|Occupation||Darknet market operator|
|Years active||February 2011 – October 2013|
|Known for||Owner of Silk Road|
|Net worth||$28.5 million (at time of seizure)|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment + 40 years without possibility of parole (May 29, 2015)|
|Criminal status||In prison|
Conspiracy to traffic narcotics (February 6, 2015)
|October 1, 2013|
|Imprisoned at||United States Penitentiary, Florence High|
Ross William Ulbricht (born March 27, 1984) is a convicted American drug trafficker and darknet market operator, best known for creating and running the Silk Road website from 2011 until his arrest in 2013. He was known under the pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts," after the fictional character in the novel The Princess Bride (1973) and its 1987 film adaptation.
Ulbricht was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics by means of the internet in February 2015. He is currently serving a double life sentence plus forty years without the possibility of parole. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence in May 2017. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a further appeal in June 2018. The Maryland prosecution dismissed a five-year old pending indictment in July 2018.
Ulbricht grew up in the Austin metropolitan area. He was a Boy Scout, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended West Ridge Middle School, and Westlake High School, both near Austin. He graduated from high school in 2002.
He attended the University of Texas at Dallas on a full academic scholarship, and graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in physics. He then attended Pennsylvania State University, where he was in a master's degree program in materials science and engineering and studied crystallography. By the time Ulbricht graduated he had become more interested in libertarian economic theory. In particular, Ulbricht adhered to the political philosophy of Ludwig von Mises and supported Ron Paul, and participated in college debates to discuss his economic views.
Ulbricht graduated from Penn State in 2009 and returned to Austin. By this time Ulbricht, finding regular employment unsatisfying, wanted to become an entrepreneur, but his first attempts to start his own business failed. He had tried day trading and starting a video game company. His mother claims it was the latter that his LinkedIn profile was referring to when it stated, "I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force," claiming it to be a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.:7:20 He eventually partnered with his friend Donny Palmertree to help build an online used book seller, Good Wagon Books. His limited business success, combined with a breakup with his on-and-off girlfriend from Penn State, left Ulbricht discontented.
Ulbricht envisioned Silk Road as a free market experiment with an emphasis on user anonymity, he believed people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren’t hurting anyone else. Silk Road was designed to use Tor and bitcoin. Tor is a protocol that encrypts data and routes internet traffic through intermediary servers that anonymize IP addresses before reaching a final destination. By hosting his market as a Tor site, Ulbricht could conceal its IP address. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency; while all bitcoin transactions are recorded in a log, the blockchain, if users can avoid linking their identities to their online "wallets" they can conduct transactions with considerable anonymity.
Ulbricht used the Dread Pirate Roberts username for Silk Road. However, it is disputed that he was the only one to use that account. Dread Pirate Roberts attributed his inspiration for creating the Silk Road marketplace as "Alongside Night and the works of Samuel Edward Konkin III."
Ulbricht began to work on developing his online marketplace in 2010 as a side project to Good Wagon Books. He also sporadically kept a diary during the operating history of Silk Road; in his first entry he outlined his situation prior to launch, and predicted he would make 2011 "a year of prosperity" through his ventures. Ulbricht may also have included a reference to Silk Road on his LinkedIn page, where he discussed his wish to "use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind" and claimed "I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force." To author Nathaniel Popper, the creation of Silk Road was an act of "sheer desperation" after Ulbricht exhausted most of the nest egg he had after college on his failed businesses. Ulbricht moved to San Francisco prior to his arrest.
Ulbricht was first connected to "Dread Pirate Roberts" by Gary Alford, an IRS investigator working with the DEA on the Silk Road case, in mid-2013. The connection was made by linking the username "altoid", used during Silk Road's early days to announce the website, and a forum post in which Ulbricht, posting under the nickname "altoid", asked for programming help and gave his email address, which contained his full name. In October 2013, Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI while at the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library, and accused of being the "mastermind" behind the site.
To prevent Ulbricht from encrypting or deleting files on the laptop he was using to run the site as he was arrested, two agents pretended to be quarreling lovers. When they had sufficiently distracted him, according to Joshuah Bearman of Wired, a third agent grabbed the laptop while Ulbricht was distracted by the apparent lovers' fight and handed it to agent Thomas Kiernan. Kiernan then inserted a flash drive in one of the laptop's USB ports, with software that copied key files.
On 21 August 2014, Ulbricht was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. None of the procuring murder allegations were part of Ulbricht's indictment in New York, although the evidence was factored into Ulbricht's sentence.
On 4 February 2015, Ulbricht was convicted on all non-violent counts after a jury trial that took place in January 2015. On 29 May 2015, he was sentenced to double life imprisonment plus forty years, without the possibility of parole.
On the last day of trial, Serrin Turner, the NY lead prosecutor, addressed the jury and stated that none of the six contracted murders-for-hire allegations occurred. One charge of procuring murder was originally filed in October 2013 in a separate pending indictment in Maryland (which was later dismissed in its entirety in July 2018); the other five allegations were never filed.
Ulbricht's lawyers submitted an appeal on 12 January 2016, centered on claims that the prosecution illegally withheld evidence of DEA agents' malfeasance in the investigation of Silk Road, for which they were convicted. Ulbricht also argued his sentence was too harsh. The oral hearing for the appeal was held on 6 October 2016. On 31 May 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Ulbricht's appeal and affirmed the judgment of conviction and life sentence in an opinion written by Gerard E. Lynch, United States Circuit Judge.
On 22 December 2017, Ulbricht filed his final appeal with the United States Supreme Court. His appeal argued two key issues: (1) "Whether the warrantless seizure of an individual’s Internet traffic information without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment"; and, (2) "Whether the Sixth Amendment permits judges to find the facts necessary to support an otherwise unreasonable sentence."
On 5 February 2018, twenty-one amici filed five amicus curiae briefs in support of Ulbricht, including the National Lawyers Guild, American Black Cross, Reason Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, and Downsize DC Foundation.
On 7 March 2018, the U.S. government filed a response to Ulbricht's petition. The government argued that a decision on the first issue of his appeal should be postponed until a decision is granted in Carpenter v. United States, which involves similar concerns related to the collection of communication data. The government suggested outright dismissal of the second issue, citing a lack of supporting precedent as well as noting that the Sixth Amendment claim was not raised prior to filing the petition.
On 28 June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Ulbricht's appeal.
On 20 July 2018, Robert K. Hur, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, filed a motion to "dismiss with prejudice" the indictment containing the murder-for-hire charges, meaning the charges can never be re-filed. On 26 July 2018, the charges were officially dismissed by U.S District Judge Catherine C. Blake who granted the motion to dismiss.
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