Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) is the founder of the original Silk Road website. After the FBI shut down the website, Ross has been arrested and sentenced with a double life in prison without parole in a maximum-security prison. This article is an overview of the case and why this is absolutely wrong.
Note: The article might contain my personal opinion, which is why I'm trying to start with the hard facts one by one. You probably just know the "Pablo Escobar murder for hire" version most media did write about. Please take your time to read through this and think about the whole case again afterwards.
Ross did not see a fair trial
In a fair trial, the defense should get access to information they need and present evidence to the jury.
The defense filed multiple discovery requests. The government refused them.
The defense was not allowed to investigate the corruption (more information on the corruption in the next fact) independently.
The defense was not allowed to use several evidence, because of the corruption secret. A request from the defense to wait until the corruption investigation is finished has been rejected though.
Agents investigating the case were corrupt
The agents Carl Force (DEA) and Shaun Bridges (Secret Service) were corrupt. Both of them were part of the investigation team. This was revealed seven weeks after Ross's trial was done.
Long story short, they stole at least 23,984 bitcoins during the investigation.
Also, they tricked Curtis Green (Silk Road Admin) into showing them how to exploit Silk Road’s system, change passwords and take over accounts. They then made Ross think that Green stole the bitcoins.
After this, one of the agents pretended to be a cartel member, who would kill Green for Ross. This is the story behind the big "murder for hire" thing in the media. There was no murder at any point.
No murder for hire and multiple DPRs
As stated above, there was no murder at any time. Ross was not even charged for this.
After the corrupt agents made Ross think Green stole the money, one agent chatted with Ross and the nickname "Dread Pirate Roberts" (DPR), which is a known nickname of Ross, asked the agent pretending to be a cartel member to find Green and get the money back. The agent agreed to find and kill Green.
The problem is, that there is no proof, that Ross actually was behind the screen writing messages as Dread Pirate Roberts. There have been account activities in the DPR account after Ross has been caught. So it remains unknown how many DPRs there were. Even the main investigator in the case believed that there were multiple DPRs.
However, the judge used this uncharged and unproven crime to justify the double life without parole sentence.
The "victim" Curtis Green himself posted on Twitter, that he is sure, that Ross did not hire a hitman to kill him.
The FBI lied on how they found the Silk Road servers
Lead FBI investigator Christopher Tarbell said that he found the real servers behind the Silk Road website by taking a look into the packet headers while interacting with the Silk Road login.
As most of the readers here are probably tech-savvy: Yes, this does not seem to make sense at all.
Okay, let's assume this is true. He then put that IP (220.127.116.11 - backend server) into a normal browser without using TOR and the server did respond with some part of the Silk Road login page.
I think this is a second lie. So do multiple security researchers on the internet (ErrataSec, Brian Krebs).
Let's step back to the first point there. There were probably a lot of people trying to hack Silk Road for good or bad. I'm pretty sure people would have found an IP leak like this. Also, how should this technically happen? You would really have to try very hard to leak your real server IP in order to send the real IP in a package header.
Secondly, the webserver configuration files published do not underline the story FBI investigator Tarbell told.
There were two servers, one frontend server (IP: 18.104.22.168) and one backend server (22.214.171.124).
Config file 1 of the backend server, which IP has been leaked in a package header according to the FBI, looks like this:
This config is responsible for the standard web port 80, which is commonly serving unencrypted traffic. As you can see on the top of the config, you will have to login to do anything. So connecting to this port directly won't just show the Captcha of the Silk Road login page as described by the FBI.
Config file 2 of the backend server:
This config is responsible for the standard web port 443 for encrypted traffic. The first location block is the most interesting part of the config. Just opening https://126.96.36.199 in the browser wouldn't just show any part of the Silk Road login page.
"Allow 127.0.0.1" and "Allow 188.8.131.52" (frontend server IP) means that just localhost and the frontend server are allowed to access the content.
As Robert Graham pointed out on his post on ErrataSec, requesting a *.php file directly will "bypass" that IP restriction. Also, the config redirects all requests for / to /index.php. So if there would be a file in the document root at /var/www/market/public named index.php, the explanation of the FBI would make a bit more sense.
But finding the IP the way they said they found it is still very very strange. On top of that, there is no real documentation of their actions. No screenshots, packets or anything. The FBI investigator should know better. Even worse, the government did not call him to the stand. So the defense could not ask him about this.
Ross is worse than extreme and violent drug gangs according to the judge (aka the Kingpin Charge)
The Kingpin Statute has been used for the most criminal, violent and brutal drug gang leaders.
Even though Ross did not even have a criminal history nor commit any violent crimes, he can be compared with El Chapo and Pablo Escobar after being charged through the Kingpin Statute. For hosting a website.
Worth noting is the fact that real brutal criminals, who where charged for this, received a significantly lower sentencing than Ross.
More information on Ross and the Kingpin Charge.
Ross was made an example of
Double life without parole is a very hard sentencing. Even more interesting is the fact, that similiar people did not receive a sentencing anyhow compareable to the one Ross received.
Besides of all the non-violent crimes, Ross also is a very good and kind person (more on that in the next "Fact"). Now he hosted a website, which is a free market and not even just used to sell/buy drugs, and his life is over.
Peter Nash (Senior Silk Road Admin): 17 months
Jason Weld Hagen (Biggest Methamphetamine Seller on SR): 3 years
Steven Sadler (Biggest Cocaine & Heroin Seller on SR): 5 years
So the senior admin isn't as criminal as both dealers on Silk Road, but the Silk Road owner is way more criminal and dangerous (keep the maximum-security prison in mind) than all the other people together? Did I miss something here?
Ross is a very special person (in a good way)
Ulbricht's family collected 100 letters from people who know Ross personally. They sent them to the Judge Forrest. Those letters testify his kind and generous personality.
Some of the letters are written by fellow inmates. Ross is teaching people in prison. I think this underlines his positivity. He tries to make the best out of every situation.
“Ross is one of those rare lights in the world and one of the best individuals I’ve ever met. I’ve never seen him show malice or anger towards anyone. I don’t know anyone else who treats others with such compassion and respect.”
- Brandon Anderson, longtime friend
“[...] Ross consistently exhibited a peaceful and positive demeanor. He spent his days sharing positive thoughts with the other inmates. Ross also encouraged them to find peaceful ways to resolve their differences.”
- Michael Satterfield, shared a cell at MDC with Ross for about 15 months
“Of all the people in our unit, Ross is facing the most time, but he never complains or tries to bring anyone down. On the contrary, he's often the one to remind us to look on to the bright side and be grateful for the blessings we still have. [...] but when I see Ross, who's situation is so much worse, and how he remains friendly and kind to me and the others in our unit, it gives me the strength to do the same.”
- Scott A. Stammers, shared a cell with Ross at MCC
These are just three quotes from all the letters. Those people aren't even related to Ross. They don't have any reason to lie.
There is so much wrong in this case. And everything above is just a "quick" introduction into some aspects of the whole case. We do still have altered evidence, lowered standards of evidence and much more.
But the trial is over. Ross is already in prison, forever. The Supreme Court denied Ross’s petition on June 28, 2018. Last resort is a pardon.
What you can do to help:
- Spread the word
- Sign the petition to the President of the United States
- Send some words of energy to Ross
- Donate to Ross's legal fund
- Support his legal fund and spread the word by browsing their shop
And luckily there will always be one person fighting for Ross: His mother Lyn Ulbricht. She is fighting for her son for several years now and I'm sure she won't ever stop until her son is free. She is also controlling the @Free_Ross Twitter account. Feel free to send her some energy.
A very great speech she did:
Main Image Credit : The awesome piece of artwork used to head this article is called 'Dazzling Intellect' and it was created by graphic designer Brett Swihart.