Ross Ulbricht, the man convicted of creating and running the Silk Road illegal drug dealing website, will be sentenced in a Manhattan court today (29 May) and could face life in prison.
The 31-year-old was found guilty in February of creating and running the website, which earned him millions of dollars in commission for the sale of illegal drugs and paraphernalia. He was found guilty on all counts, which included narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent IDs and engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. He faces between 20 years and life in prison.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, his mother, Lyn Ulbricht, said her son's 19-month detention in jail has already been enough for him to rehabilitate. "If Ross were free tomorrow, he would not break another crime... Now it's just a matter of punishment," she said, adding that the mandatory minimum of 20 years is "much more than sufficient, certainly far greater than necessary, for non-violent charges."
Although never charged, Ulbricht is also alleged to have arranged and paid for multiple murders during his time as Silk Road's owner, known as the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). There is no evidence that these took place, but conversation logs shown in court document DPR's hiring of hitmen to deal with Silk Road users who crossed him.
A maximum security prison 'would be abominable'
If given a sentence of more than 35 years, Ulbricht could face time in a maximum-security prison, somewhere his mother says is "extremely violent and dangerous... A maximum security prison for someone like Ross would be abominable."
In the weeks since Ulbricht was found guilty, prosecutors have presented evidence to Judge Katherine Forrest that drugs bought on Silk Road were responsible for the overdose and death of six people. But Ulbricht's defence team, led by lawyer Joshua Dratel, argue there are "gaping holes" in this evidence, which would prevent the deaths from being directly blamed on Silk Road and Ulbricht. "Each and every [deceased victim] had a history of chronic substance abuse, as well as medical and psychiatric problems prior to death," Lyn Ulbricht told IBTimes UK.
'He cannot expect leniency from the sentencing court'
Peter Skinner, a partner at the Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP law firm in New York, told IBTimes UK: "It seems likely that the judge will sentence Ulbricht to a term that far exceeds the twenty year minimum, if not a life sentence. I expect the court to focus on the fact that Ulbricht profited directly from every transaction on Silk Road; the judge is not likely to accept Ulbricht's argument that he is not responsible for all of the site's criminal activity. And if Ulbricht cannot insulate himself from the vast scope of criminal activity that flourished on his website, he cannot expect leniency from the sentencing court."
In a statement sent to IBTimes UK, Dratel said: "It is simply impossible for the government to prove that drugs from Silk Road 'caused' death. In certain cases, the government cannot even establish to any degree that any of the drugs ingested came from Silk Road."
Dratel also claims that two of the deaths occurred while the US government had control of the Silk Road server, unbeknown to Ulbricht and the site's users, and it "could have closed it down at any time. By their own logic, they themselves are guilty." Dratel added that he thinks it is "manipulative for the prosecution to exploit people's grief in an attempt to obtain the highest sentence."
'Put a chill on the internet'
Although admitting that he created Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht claims he gave the site away soon after it was launched. Shortly before it was shut down by the US government in October 2013, he claims he was lured by its then-owners into retaking control and thus becoming the fall guy. His mother has stood by him throughout the trial and claims the verdict "put a chill on the internet" because it suggest that website owners and administrators are legally responsible for the actions of the site's users.
Echoing this, Dratel said: "The prosecution is implying that web hosts are responsible for the misuse of products on their sites, which foreshadows a disturbing precedent."
Ulbricht is expected to be sentenced at around 6pm UK time.