Ross William Ulbricht (born March 27, 1984) is an American former drug trafficker and darknet market operator, best known for creating and running the online narcotics marketplace Silk Road from 2011 until his arrest in 2013. He was known under the pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts".
Ulbricht was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics in February 2015. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence in 2017.
Early life and education
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,
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. 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.
Silk Road, arrest and trial
As early as 2009 Ulbricht had been contemplating the idea of building an online black market that would use Tor and bitcoin to evade law enforcement. 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 login 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 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." 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 data 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, a third agent took his computer away, and inserted a USB flash drive that cloned all the data on the hard drive. and procuring murder. although the evidence was factored into Ulbricht's sentence. Ulbricht was convicted of all the remaining charges after a jury trial that concluded in February 2015. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on 29 May 2015.
The prosecutor believed that none of the six contracted murders-for-hire occurred. the other five were never filed.
After the conviction
His 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. The oral hearing for the appeal was 6 October 2016. On May 31, 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. Ulbricht, as well as arguing that the corruption of two federal agents should be considered, also argued his sentence was too harsh.
At the start of his sentence he was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York.
- Deep Web (film)
- USBKill, kill switch software created in response to circumstances of Ulbricht's arrest
- Variety Jones and Smedley