Ross Ulbricht’s mother will not give up.
Since 2015, her son, who founded the Silk Road, an online black market, has been serving life without parole at a federal penitentiary in Colorado for selling illegal narcotics. The emporium was one of the first use cases for crypto and is frequently cited by critics as emblematic of its dark side.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on appeal. His defense attorneys had argued that the sentence was unreasonably harsh and that the digital evidence accumulated by law enforcement was shaky at best. Among other things, the defense had argued that Ulbricht had been set up by hackers as a fall guy.
“Ross should be celebrated as the ingenious entrepreneur that he is.” Roger Ver, CEO of Bitcoin.com
With the court of last resort turning a cold shoulder to Ulbricht, his mother, Lyn Ulbricht, and luminaries in the crypto world, have been appealing to the court of public opinion. Thus far, some 64,000 people have signed a petition asking President Donald Trump to consider pardoning Ulbricht, who ran Silk Road under the nom de hack Dread Pirate Roberts. The petition claims that the investigation, trial and sentencing were “rife with abuse.” It calls out the fact that two federal investigators in the case, Sean Bridges and Carl Force, were subsequently arrested, found guilty and sentenced to jail terms for stealing Silk Road funds.
“It's incredibly hard to see your son, whom you love so much and who is such a good person, having his life taken away,” Mrs. Ulbricht says. “I just can't accept that this will happen and will keep fighting until Ross is finally allowed to come home.”
Libertarians back call for pardon
The 34-year-old Ulbricht’s case has become a cause celebre for a variety of activists ranging from the U.S. Libertarian National Party to Roger Ver, CEO of Bitcoin.com. Indeed, Ver says that rather than being incarcerated, Ulbricht should be held out as an example of American ingenuity and business acumen.
Says Ver: “Ross should be celebrated as the ingenious entrepreneur that he is.”
He added that the drug charges were ridiculous and that sentiment is turning against harsh drug laws, just as it did against prohibition. The public isn’t “being fooled by the immoral drug war any longer,” he claims.
Richard Fields, who serves as press secretary to the National Committee of the Libertarian Party, agrees that the war on drugs is losing popular support. But he’s skeptical that the Ulbricht case will be taken up by any sitting president: "There is almost no chance a Democratic or Republican would pardon Ulbricht ever.”
With Trump though, who can say? Kim Kardashian was able to convince the president to pardon non-violent drug offender Alice Marie Johnson in June. And that has encouraged Mrs. Ulbricht to soldier on.
Murder-for-hire charges dropped
Ross was convicted for non-violent crimes relating to drug trafficking but murder-for-hire allegations became part of his sentencing considerations. Those charges were dropped on July 27, 2018. Mrs Ulbricht argues that the murder allegations during the trial “poisoned Ross’ case.”
She says she’s encouraged by the support the petition has received— and believes that it will get the president’s attention. To keep attention focused on the case, she is maintaining her son’s official Twitter account, and relaying messages from him to it, which are posted regularly.
She says she would like to have a celebrity deliver the petition to Trump but, despite the backing by the cryptocurrency community, nobody has come forward to do so yet. “We are so grateful to all the people the world over who have supported Ross in his fight for freedom,” she says. “We are hopeful that, with enough demonstrated support, this will get the attention of the president.” If President Trump’s penchant for pardons is any indication, perhaps Ulbricht has a chance.