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Ross William Ulbricht (born March 27, 1984) is an American former drug trafficker and darknet market operator, best known for creating and running the Silk Road website from 2011 until his arrest in 2013.[2] He was known under the pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts".

Ross William Ulbricht
Ross Ulbricht passport photo.jpg
Ulbricht's 2012 passport photo
Born (1984-03-27) March 27, 1984 (age 33)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Dread Pirate Roberts, Frosty, Altoid
Alma mater University of Texas at Dallas (B.S. 2006)
Pennsylvania State University (M.S. 2009)
Occupation Darknet market operator
Years active February 2011 – October 2013
Known for Owner of Silk Road
Net worth $28.5 million (at time of seizure)[1]
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment without possibility of parole (May 29, 2015)
Criminal status In prison
Conviction(s) Money laundering
Computer hacking
Conspiracy to traffic narcotics (February 6, 2015)
Date apprehended
October 1, 2013
Imprisoned at United States Penitentiary, Florence High

Ulbricht was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics in February 2015.[3] He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.[4] The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence in 2017.[5]


Early life and educationEdit

Ulbricht grew up in the Austin metropolitan area. He was a Boy Scout,[6] attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.[7] He attended West Ridge Middle School,[8] and Westlake High School, both near Austin. He graduated from high school in 2002.[9]

He attended the University of Texas at Dallas on a full academic scholarship,[7] and graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in physics.[9] He then attended Pennsylvania State University, where he was in a master's degree program in materials science and engineering and studied crystallography. By the time Ulbricht graduated he had become more interested in libertarian economic theory. In particular, Ulbricht adhered to the political philosophy of Ludwig von Mises and supported Ron Paul, and participated in college debates to discuss his economic views.[8][10]

Ulbricht graduated from Penn State in 2009 and returned to Austin. By this time Ulbricht, finding regular employment unsatisfying, wanted to become an entrepreneur, but his first attempts to start his own business failed. He had tried day trading and starting a video game company. His mother claims it was the latter that his LinkedIn profile was referring to when it stated, "I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force," claiming it to be a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.[11]:7:20 He eventually partnered with his friend Donny Palmertree to help build an online used book seller, Good Wagon Books. His limited business success, combined with a breakup with his on-and-off girlfriend from Penn State, left Ulbricht discontented.[8][12]

Silk Road, arrest and trialEdit

As early as 2009 Ulbricht had been contemplating the idea of building an online black market that would use Tor and bitcoin to evade law enforcement.[13] Tor is a protocol that encrypts data and routes internet traffic through intermediary servers that anonymize IP addresses before reaching a final destination. By hosting his market as a Tor site, Ulbricht could conceal its IP address.[12][14] Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency; while all bitcoin transactions are recorded in a log, the blockchain, if users can avoid linking their identities to their online "wallets" they can conduct transactions with considerable anonymity.[15][16]

Ulbricht used the Dread Pirate Roberts login for Silk Road. However, it is disputed that he was the only one to use that account.[11][17][18] Dread Pirate Roberts attributed his inspiration for creating the Silk Road marketplace as "Alongside Night and the works of Samuel Edward Konkin III."[19]

Ulbricht began work on developing his online marketplace in 2010 as a side project to Good Wagon Books. He also sporadically kept a diary during the operating history of Silk Road; in his first entry he outlined his situation prior to launch, and predicted he would make 2011 "a year of prosperity" through his ventures.[8][20] Ulbricht may also have included a reference to Silk Road on his LinkedIn page, where he discussed his wish to "use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind" and claimed "I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force."[10] To author Nathaniel Popper, the creation of Silk Road was an act of "sheer desperation" after Ulbricht exhausted most of the nest egg he had after college on his failed businesses.[15] Ulbricht moved to San Francisco prior to his arrest.[10]

Image placed on original Silk Road after seizure of property by the FBI

Ulbricht was first connected to "Dread Pirate Roberts" by Gary Alford, an IRS investigator working with the DEA on the Silk Road case, in mid-2013.[21][22] The connection was made by linking the username "altoid", used during Silk Road's early days to announce the website, and a forum post in which Ulbricht, posting under the nickname "altoid", asked for programming help and gave his email address, which contained his full name. [23] In October 2013, Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI while at the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library, and accused of being the "mastermind" behind the site.[24][25][25][26]

To prevent Ulbricht from encrypting or deleting data on the laptop he was using to run the site as he was arrested, two agents pretended to be quarreling lovers. When they had sufficiently distracted him,[27] a third agent took his computer away,[28] and inserted a USB flash drive that cloned all the data on the hard drive.[27] Agent Chris Tarbell presented Ulbricht the warrant for his arrest.[28]

Oral argument in United States v. Ulbricht in the 2nd Circuit

Ulbricht was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic narcotics,[25][29] and procuring murder.[26] The charge of procuring murder was removed from the indictment[30] although the evidence was factored into Ulbricht's sentence.[31] Ulbricht was convicted of all the remaining charges after a jury trial that concluded in February 2015.[32] He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on 29 May 2015.[33][34][35]

The prosecutor believed that none of the six contracted murders-for-hire occurred.[26] One charge of procuring murder is to be dealt with in a separate pending trial in Maryland;[36] the other five were never filed.[37]

After the convictionEdit

His lawyers submitted an appeal on 12 January 2016, centered on claims that the prosecution illegally withheld evidence of DEA agents' malfeasance in the investigation of Silk Road, for which they were convicted.[38] The oral hearing for the appeal was 6 October 2016.[39] On May 31, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Ulbricht's appeal and affirmed the judgment of conviction and life sentence in an opinion written by Gerard E. Lynch, United States Circuit Judge.[40] Ulbricht, as well as arguing that the corruption of two federal agents should be considered, also argued his sentence was too harsh.[41]


At the start of his sentence he was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York.[34] As of September 2017, he is held at USP Florence High.[42][43][11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "FBI Says It's Seized $28.5 Million In Bitcoins From Ross Ulbricht, Alleged Owner Of Silk Road". 25 October 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Raymond, Nate (2015-02-04). "Accused Silk Road operator convicted on U.S. drug charges". Reuters. Retrieved 2015-06-22. 
  3. ^ "Jury Verdict". Docket Alarm. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  4. ^ "Judgment in a Criminal Case (Sentencing)". Docket Alarm. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  5. ^ "Silk Road founder loses his appeal, will serve a life sentence for online crimes". Retrieved 1 June 2017. 
  6. ^ "Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht: Drug 'kingpin' or 'idealistic' Boy Scout?" CNN/Money. May 28, 201. Retrieved on June 15, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Segal, David. "Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker?" The New York Times. January 18, 2014. Retrieved on June 16, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d "The Untold Story of Silk Road, Part 1". Wired. April 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-09. 
  9. ^ a b "Man with Austin ties charged with running vast underground drugs website" (Archive). Austin American-Statesman. October 2, 2013. Retrieved on June 14, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Dewey, Caitlin. "Everything we know about Ross Ulbricht, the outdoorsy libertarian behind Silk Road". Washington Post. October 3, 2013. Retrieved on June 15, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c "Ross Ulbricht Loses His Appeal. Here's What Happens Next". Corbett Report. Retrieved 12 July 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Mullin, Joe (2015-05-29). "Sunk: How Ross Ulbricht ended up in prison for life". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  13. ^ O'Neill, Patrick Howell (2015-01-21). "The secret mentor of Silk Road's mastermind". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 2015-12-13. 
  14. ^ Leger, Donna Leinwand (2014-05-15). "How FBI brought down cyber-underworld site Silk Road". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-12-13. 
  15. ^ a b Popper, Nathaniel (2015-05-24). ""We are up to something big": Silk Road discovers Bitcoin". Salon. Retrieved 2015-12-13. 
  16. ^ Pagliery, Jose (2015-02-05). "Bitcoin fallacy led to Silk Road founder's conviction". CNN Money. Retrieved 2015-12-13. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Collected Quotations Of The Dread Pirate Roberts, Founder Of Underground Drug Site Silk Road And Radical Libertarian" |
  20. ^ Mullin, Joe (2015-01-21). ""I have secrets": Ross Ulbricht's private journal shows Silk Road's birth". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-03-04. 
  21. ^ Popper, Nathaniel (25 December 2015). "The Tax Sleuth Who Took Down a Drug Lord". New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  22. ^ "Silk Road: Google search unmasked Dread Pirate Roberts". BBC News. 19 August 2017. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  23. ^ Popper, Nathaniel (25 December 2015). "The Tax Sleuth Who Took Down a Drug Lord". New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  24. ^ "Dark net marketplace Silk Road 'back online'". BBC. 6 November 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  25. ^ a b c Mac, Ryan (2 October 2013). "Who Is Ross Ulbricht? Piecing Together The Life Of The Alleged Libertarian Mastermind Behind Silk Road [Page 2]". Forbes. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c "Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht denied bail". The Guardian. 21 November 2013. Archived from the original on 3 May 2016. 
  27. ^ a b Bertrand, Natasha (May 29, 2015). "The FBI staged a lovers' fight to catch the kingpin of the web's biggest illegal drug marketplace". Business Insider. Retrieved May 30, 2016. 
  28. ^ a b "The Untold Story of Silk Road, Part 2". Wired. April 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-16. 
  29. ^ Gilbert, David (10 October 2013). "Alleged Silk Road Operator Ross Ulbricht Denies he is Dread Pirate Roberts". International Business Times. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  30. ^ O'Neill, Patrick Howell. "The mystery of the disappearing Silk Road murder charges" (Archive). Daily Dot. October 22, 2014. Retrieved on June 14, 2015.
  31. ^ Paul, Kari (5 October 2015). "Unsealed Transcript Shows How a Judge Justified Ross Ulbricht's Life Sentence". Motherboard. Vice Media. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  32. ^ "Accused Silk Road Operator Ross Ulbricht Convicted on All Counts". NBC News. 4 February 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2015. 
  33. ^ Thielman, Sam (29 May 2015). "Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life in prison". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  34. ^ a b "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on June 15, 2015. Enter the BOP number 18870-111 or the name Ross Ulbricht.
  35. ^ Greenberg, Andy. "After Ross Ulbricht's First NY Court Appearance, His Lawyer Says He's Not The FBI's Dread Pirate Roberts". Forbes. November 7, 2013. Retrieved on June 15, 2015. "Dratel said Ulbricht is now being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn[...]"
  36. ^ Woolf, Nicky (29 May 2015). "Ross Ulbricht begs judge: 'Please leave light at end of tunnel' with sentencing". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  37. ^ Patrick Howell O'Neill (22 October 2014). "The mystery of the disappearing Silk Road murder charges". The Daily Dot. 
  38. ^ Greenberg, Andy (12 January 2016). "In Silk Road Appeal, Ross Ulbricht's Defense Focuses on Corrupt Feds". Wired. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  39. ^ Greenberg, Andy (6 October 2016). "Judges Question Ross Ulbricht's Life Sentence in Silk Road Appeal". Wired. Retrieved 15 October 2016. 
  40. ^ United States v. Ulbricht (Docket No. 15-1815) (2d Cir. May 31, 2017).
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^

Further readingEdit

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