‘Dread Pirate’ Should Get More Than 20 Years, U.S. Says

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Conviction of Ross Ulbricht
A supporter of Ross Ulbricht stands in front of a Manhattan federal court house. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The man convicted of running the Silk Road online drug marketplace should spend more than 20 years in prison, said U.S. prosecutors who cited deaths from drugs bought on the site and evidence of five murder-for-hire plots.

Ross William Ulbricht, 31, was convicted in February of running Silk Road, where users spent $214 million in bitcoins to buy an array of illegal drugs, computer hacking tools and fake identification. Ulbricht, who used the online name “Dread Pirate Roberts,” faces as long as life in prison when he’s sentenced May 29.

“Ulbricht ran a massive narcotics-trafficking enterprise that dramatically lowered the barriers to obtaining illegal drugs,” prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in a letter Tuesday. “He was willing to use violence to protect his enterprise, as evidenced by his solicitation of multiple murders for hire in attempts to eliminate perceived threats.”

Ulbricht asked Forrest last week to sentence him to no more than the 20-year minimum term for his crimes, expressing regret and calling Silk Road a “naive and costly idea” that has ruined his life.

A jury found Ulbricht guilty of all seven charges against him, including conspiracy and trafficking drugs on the Internet. Ulbricht claimed in his trial that he started the site as an “economic experiment.” He said he passed control of Silk Road to someone else after a few months.

Ulbricht’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail and e-mail messages seeking comment on the government’s sentencing request.

Trafficking ‘Kingpin’

In the letter, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Serrin Turner and Timothy Howard called Ulbricht a drug-trafficking “kingpin,” responsible for the deaths caused by drugs sold on the site. They detailed six cases, including “Preston B.,” 16, of Australia, who died at a post-prom party in February 2013 from leaping off a hotel balcony after taking a drug created to mimic the effects of LSD.

They also included “Jordan M.,” a 27-year-old Microsoft employee from Bellevue, Washington, who was found by his roommates in August 2013. Investigators determined he had a browser window open displaying the Silk Road website with his private message inbox bearing the subject line “Your day just got better,” informing him that a package of heroin and Xanax was due to arrive that morning, prosecutors said.

“Bryan B.,” 25, of Boston, who investigators determined bought heroin from Silk Road just days before the government shut it down, was found dead in his apartment in October 2013, according to prosecutors.

Murder Plots

Prosecutors have also claimed Ulbricht tried to arrange the murders of five people who threatened the anonymity of buyers and sellers on the site. Ulbricht, who doesn’t face charges related to those five, is charged in a separate murder-for-hire case in federal court in Baltimore.

Ulbricht “proved quite ruthless in seeking to protect his illegal empire, attempting on multiple occasions to solicit murders for hire in order to deal with perceived threats to his operation,” prosecutors said in their letter to the judge. “Ulbricht clearly believed that all of the murders were real and intended for them to occur.”

The government said it doesn’t believe any killings were actually carried out.

Also Tuesday, an Australian man who moderated discussion forums on Silk Road using the name “Samesamebutdifferent” was sentenced to the time he’s already served in jail, after pleading guilty to drug and money laundering charges.

Time Served

U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa in Manhattan sentenced Peter Philip Nash, 42, to time served, permitting him to be released after spending the past 17 months in jail in Australia and the U.S. Nash, who lives in Brisbane, hoped to leave the U.S. as soon as Tuesday night to see his elderly parents in London, his lawyer, Andrew Frisch, said outside court.

Nash, dressed in blue prison fatigues, held his head in his hands in relief after learning he was to be freed. He smiled and shook hands with his attorneys before being taken away for processing. After visiting his parents, Nash plans to return to Australia and marry his fiancée, Frisch said.

Nash was arrested in December 2013 and extradited to the U.S. from Australia. He said he became involved with Silk Road as a result of an addiction to cocaine and Ecstasy made worse by the stress of his job.

‘Eyes and Ears’

As forum moderator, Nash kept Silk Road’s discussion forums organized and acted as Ulbricht’s “eyes and ears,” passing on rumors, enforcing site rules and reporting users who were suspected of being undercover law enforcement agents, prosecutors said.

Others charged in the case include Andrew Michael Jones, known online as “Inigo,” and Gary Davis, also known as “Libertas.” Prosecutors said Nash wasn’t as criminally responsible as Ulbricht or Jones and Davis, who were paid to help Ulbricht administer the site.

Jones pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government. Davis faces possible extradition from Ireland.

The Ulbricht case is U.S. v. Ulbricht, 14-cr-00068, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The Nash case is U.S. v. Jones, 13-cr-00950, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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