Tesla CEO Elon Musk has argued that Ross Ulbricht, the founder of The Silk Road, faced an excessive sentence for his role in the creation of the online darknet marketplace.

When asked about Free Ross, the campaign to see Ulbricht be let free from prison (via a Presidential pardon or through a successful appeal), Musk replied, “He definitely has issues, but the sentencing seems a bit high.”


Bitcoin and The Silk Road

In 2011, Ulbricht founded The Silk Road, which was primarily designed for letting users buy and sell narcotics online. It was one of the first websites to enable users to make purchases using Bitcoin—although the transparency of the Bitcoin network backfired on its users, leading to a number of arrests.

In 2013, the FBI conducted a successful sting operation, arresting Ulbricht in the San Francisco public library. Two years later, he was convicted on all counts of money laundering, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. He was sentenced to double life imprisonment without the option of parole.

Included within the trial were allegations that Ulbricht paid $730,000 to have five people killed. This was based on transcripts that appeared to show “Dread Pirate Roberts”—a moniker that Ulbricht went by—discussing and paying for the hits.

The Free Ross campaign

However, the trial was marred by controversy. While the murder-for-hire evidence was introduced at trial, Ulbricht wasn’t actually charged with ordering any murders. A key issue was that the prosecution couldn’t find the people that he supposedly wanted to be killed. A separate indictment that he ordered one killing was later dropped. Ulbricht filed an appeal claiming that these claims (despite lack of charges) may have led to a harsher sentence—but the sentence was upheld.

Silk Road Founder in prison
Lyn Ulbricht with her son Ross Ulbricht. PHOTO CREDIT: Lyn Ulbricht

Another issue was that two of the FBI agents in Ulbricht’s case were later convicted for illegal activity in the case. Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges was convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Bitcoin in the course of the investigation, while DEA agent Carl Mark Force tried to extort Ulbricht during it. Ulbricht’s mother Lyn, who set up the Free Ross campaign to plead for clemency in his case, has argued that the corrupt agents tainted the investigation.


To date, all of Ulbricht’s appeals have been unsuccessful; the Free Ross campaign has also petitioned for a Presidential pardon, with 394,000 signatories to date. Former President Donald Trump, who handed out a number of pardons in his final days, did not include one for Ulbricht.

Ulbricht continues to write from prison, with a Twitter account sharing his latest thoughts.

Update: The image caption originally stated that Lyn Ulbricht tweets Ross Ulbricht's thoughts from prison. It turns out that another family member is responsible for doing this. We have updated the story to reflect this.

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