According to a report by the Daily Beast, President Donald Trump is reportedly reviewing Ross Ulbricht’s case documents ahead of his next round of pardons.
There is no consensus on a decision so far on Ulbricht’s case, according to the report, but the founder of the Silk Road supposedly has influential friends within the president’s inner circles trying to get him a pardon, the report said.
In February of 2011, Ross William Ulbricht, or as his online persona was called “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a reference to the movie character in the Princess Bride, founded the website called the Silk Road. Ulbricht was a former Penn State graduate student and self taught programmer with strong libertarian views. Ulbricht dreamt of an online marketplace where people would be able to buy and sell merchandise without governmental interference.
Ulbricht built the Silk Road on what is commonly referred to as “The Onion Router” or “Tor” network. Tor is a special Internet network designed to make it nearly impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing the websites on the network. Tor was initially developed by the US before the network was made available to the public.
The Tor network uses an onion routing technique for sending data, hence, the name. To operate in the Tor network, a user needs to install the Tor browser. Any web address or information sent while using the browser is sent through the Tor network.
Normally, a computer that accesses the Internet is given an IP address by an internet service provider (ISP). With regular browsers, when a user visits a website (e.g. www.ESPN.com) that person is requesting the IP of that website. The network then takes the associated IP address from the DNS (Domain Name System) and sends it back to the user’s IP address once access is authorized.
When using the Tor browser, the Tor network takes the traffic from your browser and sends the request to a few random amount of other users’ IP addresses first, before passing the user’s end request to the final destination. For instance, the Tor network would send the information to random user 1’s IP address, which would encrypt the information and passes it on to random user 2’s address, which performs another encryption and send it on to 3r’d and final address. And the users activities and origination remain hidden and private.
With Tor installed, the Silk Road URL directed interested customers to a black screen with a prompt for a username and password. Once inside the Silk Road allowed you to shop via category or look at images of available inventory. The Silk Road became a popular destination to purchase drugs as individuals flocked to it for its anonymity. By the time it was shut down the site had generated almost $213.9 million in sales and $13.2 million in commission to Ulbricht.
The Silk Road only accepted payment via Bitcoin. Through its decentralized nature, Bitcoin transactions are not able to be seized or halted by a third party or government, each transaction is documented via a decentralized public ledger called a “Blockchain.” When the FBI cracked the Silk Road the FBI seized 144,336 Bitcoins from a digital wallet on Ulbricht's laptop. They were sold in a series of auctions generating proceeds worth $48.2 million at the time. Today’s value of those Bitcoins with Bitcoin trading over $20,000 would be over $2.8 billion. Prior to his sentencing, Ulbricht wrote a letter to the judge that his actions were linked to his libertarian ideals and that Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices.
Ulbricht's trial began in January 2015 in Manhattan, and he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole. Ulbricht was convicted under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute (CCE) of maintaining an “ongoing criminal enterprise”, a charge usually reserved for mob bosses and referred to as the” kingpin statute." Ulbricht is the only web creator in history to ever have this charge used against them. Ulbricht’s sentence is a bit unusual someone with no criminal history and all non-violent charges brought against him.
Ulbricht’s defenders have maintained that the Sentencing Reform Act requires that a judge impose a sentence that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary.” This act was passed by the Congress to provide fairness in sentencing and avoid disparities among defendants with similar charges. They argue Ulbricht’s sentence exceeds what is sufficient and injustice is manifest. On appeal, the appeals judge called the life sentence for Ulbricht “unusual” and “quite a leap” given his lack of a criminal history and due to the fact that those overdose deaths discussed at sentencing were not charged as homicides. GOP strategist and former Trump official, Andrew Surabian, tweeted out that “Ross got screwed by the feds with an insanely harsh sentence… Few people deserve clemency from @realDonaldTrump more.”
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