In 2015, when U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest sentenced Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht to prison for several lifetimes, she also ordered him to pay nearly $184 million in restitution.
It'd be pretty difficult for Ulbricht to earn that much while in prison, so the U.S. government made a deal with the convicted darknet operator: It's using some of the 69,730 Bitcoin ($2.75 billion) it seized from a Silk Road hacker in 2013 to cover his debt.
As reported by Wired, a court filing from February 2021 shows that Ulbricht forfeited any claims to the seized Bitcoin. In exchange, the government agreed to settle the $183.9 million debt—which was based on the value of total sales on the darknet marketplace—by using proceeds from the sale.
Ross Ulbricht is a Texas native and libertarian thinker who, in Bitcoin's early days, became attracted to the possibility of using the coin to undermine government regulations and restrictions he viewed as onerous and immoral.
He created Silk Road, an online marketplace where anyone could buy and sell regulated or restricted goods, such as drugs and weapons. Because this was illegal, the marketplace—which operated on a concealed darknet website—used Bitcoin to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions.
In 2013, Ulbricht was arrested and less than two years later was convicted of seven counts, including conspiracy to commit money laundering, narcotics distribution, and engaging in a continual criminal enterprise.
He was sentenced to two life sentences without parole, in addition to restitution. Though it was reported in December 2020 that outgoing President Donald Trump was considering granting Ulbricht clemency, the darknet operator remains in prison.
Ulbricht has become something of a cause célèbre in Bitcoin and crypto circles. Last year, a DAO—an online community that uses tokens to make operational decisions—formed with the mission of freeing Ulbricht and quickly purchased $6.2 million in Ethereum NFTs—digital contracts of ownership tied to artwork or other items—issued by Ulbricht.
Ulbricht has said the proceeds from the NFT sale will go toward his clemency campaign as well as to programs assisting prisoners' families.