Ross Ulbricht was an Eagle Scout and a popular physics student who made a fateful decision to reinvent himself as the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a pseudonym he used to operate a massive illegal online bazaar known as the Silk Road. It came crashing down hard on Friday as a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced Ulbricht to serve the rest of his life in prison, following his earlier conviction on seven different charges.
The punishment is surprisingly harsh, exceeding even what the prosecutors had suggested. Ulbricht, who had earlier implored the judge to “please leave my old age,” can appeal the sentence though that would be a long shot.
“You were the captain of the ship as Dread Pirate Roberts, and you enforced the law as you see fit, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest told Ulbricht in imposing the sentence.
Ulbricht may have been able to obtain lighter sentence had he pled guilty, but he instead went with a far-fetched defense strategy at trial that claimed that he had started the site, but that someone else was the real Dread Pirate Roberts.
Friday’s hearing came at a court room so crowded that many spectators were forced into a nearby overflow area. The court scene reflected the worldwide interest in the Silk Road affair, which included numerous ripped-from-an-action-movie elements, including the FBI’s dramatic 2013 takedown of Ulbricht’s dramatic in a San Francisco library.
The ensuing criminal case included allegations that Ulbricht attempted to hire hit men (in reality FBI agents) to kill employees he believed had betrayed him. It also turned featured an FBI agent who went rogue, and sold Ulbricht information about the government’s case for hundreds of thousands of dollars, paid in bitcoins.
Ulbricht’s case has been of huge interest to bitcion users, in part because it has at times unfairly maligned the virtual currency, which is also used for everyday transactions. The bitcoin community also took an interest because of Ulbricht’s personal bitcoin fortune – which the U.S. Marshalls Service has been selling in a series of auctions.