The petition to pardon Ross Ulbricht is closing in on 50,000 signatures after just over three weeks. The petition currently sits at over 48,000 signatures.
Ross was tried and convicted of Continuing a Criminal Enterprise, Computer Hacking, Money Laundering and Narcotics Trafficking Conspiracy in 2015. He received a double life sentence without the possibility of parole, plus 40 years.
The charges stem from the allegation that Ulbricht was the creator and chief operator of the Silk Road, an underground online marketplace.
The Silk Road was an online marketplace that existed on the TOR network. The TOR network gives users access to the parts of the internet not visible with normal browsers. On the Silk Road, users transacted anonymously using Bitcoin, PGP and TOR. Sellers on the Silk Road sold legal items and services, but it was the illegal items that were the most popular. Drugs, mostly. But there were offerings posted on the site for guns, login accounts and similar services.
After a few articles in the media, the Silk Road became known in the mainstream. Senator Chuck Schumer demanded that the authorities shut it down. In October 2013, Ross Ulbricht was arrested and the site’s servers were sized. It did not stop the online drug economy. Multiple copy-cat sites launched before and after the Silk Road’s closure and the online drug trade has increased significantly.
While Ross has since admitted that he did create the Silk Road, many feel that his sentence was unreasonably harsh. Ulbricht had no prior criminal record. The charges against him were non-violent. There was no victim named at his trial. He was only 26 when he created the website and 29 when he was arrested.
There were also multiple inconsistencies with his trial. Much of the evidence against Ross Ulbricht depended on the investigation of two corrupt government agents. Both of them are currently in prison for their actions during the investigation. Their malfeasance was hidden from the jury and not allowed in trial. The defense was also denied their right to Cross-examine the government’s witnesses.
How the government determined that Ross Ulbricht was the founder of the Silk Road has also been called into question. While they claimed it was through a leaky captcha that revealed the server’s IP address, multiple security experts doubted the claim. Without actual information on how the government found this information, it was impossible for the defense to call into question how the government obtained this information or if it was legal.
Furthermore, the government initially indicted Ulbricht with multiple murder-for-hire charges. But all of those charges were eventually dropped. Nevertheless, the mere accusation was used first to deny Ross Ulbricht bail and then to justify his lengthy sentence. To this day it is a common misconception that Ross was either charged or convicted of the murder for hire charges.
Despite all of this, the Ross Ulbricht defense team was denied an appeal. Since the Supreme Court refused to take up the issue, that leaves a pardon as the most likely road to Ross’ freedom.
And that petition has been gaining signatures fast. It launched just three weeks ago and hit the 40,000 mark just five days ago. That averages to over 2,200 signatures every day. While petitions related to Star Wars or the MLB may gain more traction faster, that is still extremely fast, especially for something mostly regulated to the crypto space.
Regardless of his admitted role in the creation of the Silk Road, the sentence seems ridiculously harsh. Operators of copy-cat websites, as well as Ulbricht’s co-conspirators, haven’t received nearly as long of a sentence. Brian Richard Farrell, for an example, was charged with acting as an administrator of the Silk Road 2.0 and was only sentenced to eight years in prison.
Black and gray market sales were an early usecase for Bitcoin and contributed heavily to its early growth. It is questionable if Bitcoin would have reached its current popularity without sites like the Silk Road.