The mastermind behind the Silk Road, an underground online drug market, has been sentenced to life in prison.
Ross William Ulbricht, 31, of San Francisco was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, New York, for developing the online scheme, which netted him some $200 million in illegal drug sales.
He told Judge Katherine B. Forrest before sentencing that “I wish I could go back and convince myself to take a different path.”
Forrest said she had struggled with the decision to sentence him to the harshest penalty allowed under the law, but that his kind of lawlessness should not be tolerated.
“What you did in connection with Silk Road was terribly destructive to our social fabric,” Forrest said. The judge also took into account six people who died from overdoses of drugs purchased through the Silk Road and five others whose deaths Ulbricht had solicited.
In addition to life in prison, she ordered Ulbricht to forfeit $183.9 million.
The story of the Silk Road reads like a video game. Ulbricht operated it under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts — a name that came from the 1987 movie "Princess Bride" — in a hidden part of the Internet called the “dark web” where drug deals could be made anonymously. Customers for cocaine, heroin, LSD, marijuana and other illegal drugs paid in the online currency bitcoin.
The website operated from 2011 until the government shut it down in 2013 and arrested Ulbricht at a library in San Francisco.
Ulbricht is not a typical drug kingpin. A former Boy Scout, he has two college degrees, one in physics. He has denied wrongdoing and will appeal. He said in a letter to the judge that he had not created the website for financial gain but to give people the freedom to make private choices. In the letter, he asked for “a small light at the end of the tunnel.”
But prosecutors maintained that Ulbricht had started the Silk Road to make money, and beyond that, the effect of his actions was to use the Internet to make it much easier for people to buy illegal drugs, including new users. To set an example for future would-be online drug sellers, prosecutors had asked for tougher sentencing than the 20-year maximum carried by one count.
Ulbricht was convicted in February after a four-week trial on seven counts that ranged from drug trafficking and money laundering to maintaining an ongoing criminal enterprise.