In brief

  • Ross Ulbricht, operator of dark web market Silk Road, celebrated his 36th birthday in prison.
  • It's his seventh year in prison.
  • A petition for Ulbricht's clemency has almost 300,000 signatures.

On March 27, Ross Ulbricht celebrated his seventh consecutive birthday in prison. Less celebrated was the 36-year-old's double life sentence without parole for creating and running Silk Road, one of the first—and largest—dark web markets. 

Silk Road, which operated from 2011 to 2013, raked in over $214 million before it was shut down by the FBI, and Ulbricht, who went by the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was arrested.

Drugs, fake passports, and stolen credit card details were all up for sale on the site. Buyers and sellers traded in cryptocurrency because its privacy features obscured their identities. Ulbricht’s site singlehandedly kickstarted the modern black market economy. It spawned dozens of similar markets.

But Ulbricht’s parents insist that the crime was victimless and didn’t warrant life imprisonment. To fight his sentence, they launched a clemency petition to ask the US President to free their son. 

“Ross―an Eagle Scout, scientist and peaceful entrepreneur―had all non-violent charges at trial. He was never prosecuted for causing harm or bodily injury and no victim was named at trial. This is a sentence that shocks the conscience,” reads the clemency petition

At the time of writing, almost 280,000 people have signed the petition. Crypto tycoons such as Roger Ver, Charlie Lee and Tim Draper are among supporters.

One week ago, Ulbricht’s family noted that he remains hopeful about the petition for clemency, adding that all visits will be canceled for 30 days due to the coronavirus outbreak.

As Decrypt reported previously, the clemency petition claims that Ulbricht’s case was “rife with abuse,” because two federal agents involved in the case turned out to be corrupt—one of them was later imprisoned for stealing $359,000 worth of Bitcoin from the case.

More to it?

At the time of the trial, pending charges also included the allegation that Ulbricht tried to hire a hitman to commit several murders. Yet, on the last day of trial, the lead prosecutor addressed the jury and stated that none of the six contracted murders-for-hire ever occurred

The prosecutor noted that one charge of procuring murder was originally filed in October 2013 in a separate pending indictment—though this was later dismissed in its entirety in July 2018. The other five allegations were never filed. It’s unclear whether the hitman even existed in the first place. 

Since all the murder-for-hire charges were dropped, Ulbricht was only charged for running the site. Meanwhile, Ulbricht’s clemency petition continues to steadily climb toward 300,000 signatures. Could he finally draw Trump’s attention?