U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Silk Road Founder Loses Appeal of Life Sentence for Drug Trafficking

A federal appeals court affirmed the life sentence for a darknet criminal who was convicted of selling more than $180 million in illegal drugs on the internet.

Ross William Ulbricht, who created Silk Road and allegedly hired killers to protect his enterprise, was sentenced to life plus 40 years for his crimes. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence, rejecting Ulbricht's claims that the government's search warrant for his computer was too broad.

"Ulbricht used his laptop to commit the charged offenses by creating and continuing to operate Silk Road," the court said in United States v. Ulbricht. "Thus, a broad warrant allowing the government to search his laptop for potentially extensive evidence of those crimes does not offend the Fourth Amendment..."

"Overwhelming" Evidence

Ulbricht was arrested in 2013 at a San Francisco public library as he was connected via the internet to the Silk Road. Pursuant to a search warrant, agents seized his laptop and discovered "overwhelming" evidence against him, including $18 million in bitcoin currency from drug transactions.

After a three-week trial, he was convicted on multiple counts for drug trafficking and money laundering. With evidence that he had paid $650,000 to contract-killers, prosecutors and probation recommended life in prison.

The district court meted out the maximum sentence, and Ulbricht appealed. He complained of the search and about corrupt agents who stole from him. In a 139-page opinion, the Second Circuit affirmed.

Everything but Dead Bodies

Ulbricht argued unsuccessfully that the district court wrongfully denied his motion to suppress evidence found on this laptop. It contained a trove of information and unmasked his efforts to conceal his identity as the creator of the criminal enterprise.

In his computer journal, he wrote: "Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon and at least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator."

"The government also presented evidence that (Ulbricht) commissioned the murders of five people to protect Silk Road's anonymity, although there is no evidence that any of the murders actually occurred," the court said.

Ulbricht was not charged in the case for ordering the killings, but he was indicted for attempted murder-for-hire in a separate proceeding.

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