Ross W. Ulbricht, the creator and head operator of the infamous Silk Road, has been sentenced to two life sentences in prison for the sale of heroin, cocaine, LSD and other illegal drugs using his online marketplace.

The 31-year-old Ulbricht was sentenced by Judge Katherine B. Forrest in Federal District Court in New York, where he was described by the judge as "the kingpin of a worldwide digital drug-trafficking enterprise."

"The stated purpose [of the Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn't exist. You were captain of the ship, the Dread Pirate Roberts," said Forrest, referring to Ulbricht's pseudonym. "Silk Road's birth and presence asserted that its ... creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous."

The sentence is quite harsh when compared with what prosecutors had previously suggested. While he can appeal the decision, such an appeal would certainly be difficult. He also was ordered to pay restitution of $184 million, the amount prosecutors estimate for the sale of illegal drugs and false identification papers. He was convicted in February in Manhattan on seven felony charges, including conspiracy to traffic in narcotics and launder money. Two of the seven charges were dropped before sentencing for duplication.

In fact, the sentence might have been a little less harsh if Ulbricht had pleaded guilty, but instead he decided to tell the judge that he had started the website and that in fact someone else was the real "Dread Pirate Roberts." The judge continued on to say that the sentence was as harsh as it was partly because of the fact that Ulbricht had attempted to hire a hit man.

The Silk Road itself operated for almost three years and handled a massive 1.5 million transactions. It operated in a part of the Web known as the Dark Web, which is essentially a part of the Internet hidden from search engines and bots. The website involved thousands of sellers and over 100,000 buyers, and the transactions themselves were handled through bitcoin, a digital currency. In commission, Ulbricht took in millions of dollars.

"He developed a blueprint for a new way to use the Internet to undermine the law and facilitate criminal transactions," said the office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "Using that blueprint, others have followed in Ulbricht's footsteps, establishing new 'dark markets' in the mold of Silk Road, some selling an even broader range of illicit goods and services."

The sentencing will likely put an end to the Silk Road for good, although the Dark Web and other illegal websites that operate within it are still very much an issue for law enforcement.

Photo: Brian Turner | Flickr

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