Ross Ulbricht, a 30-year-old, libertarian-leaning Texan, has been convicted of running an underground website that did more than $200 million in illicit transactions including illegal drug deals.
After nearly a month at trial and four hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on all seven counts including money laundering, drug trafficking, and computer hacking, among others.
The charges were all related to Ulbricht's involvement in the Silk Road, a hidden online black market where transactions were conducted in the semi-anonymous digital currency Bitcoin.
"Silk Road emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet, serving as a sprawling black market bazaar where unlawful goods and services, including illegal drugs of virtually all varieties, were bought and sold regularly by the site’s users," according to a statement released today by the FBI.
Sentencing has yet to be scheduled but will probably take place in late April or early May, based on what the judge said in court today.
The sentence came back relatively quickly, with the jury beginning deliberations at 11:55 AM and returning a decision at 3:20 PM.
The conviction sparked a few yells from the court, which included members of Ulbricht's family as well as some supporters from the libertarian and Bitcoin communities.
"It's not the end!" someone yelled as Ulbricht walked out of the courtroom
"It's not the end!" someone yelled as Ulbricht walked out of the courtroom. "Ross is a hero!" someone else yelled. Ulbricht himself looked over his shoulder and nodded.
The defense has until April 4, the deadline for post-trial motions, to appeal. Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht's lawyer, said today that he is definitely appealing.
The prosecution's case appeared strong from the beginning. Law enforcement agents had confiscated Ulbricht's laptop at the time of his arrest in October of 2013, when he was logged into the site's administrative backend. They had journal entries, chat logs, and emails documenting his operation of the site under the psuedonym Dread Pirate Roberts. One of his friends even testified tearfully against him. The case was "as strong as it gets," one former FBI agent told Motherboard.
Ulbricht's lawyer argued that his client had started the Silk Road as an "economic experiment" but abandoned it when it became too stressful, and then stepped back in just in time to take the fall for other, unknown players; in other words, that Ulbricht was framed.
Throughout the trial, Ulbricht's family and Dratel, became increasingly frustrated. Judge Katherine Forrest denied two of the defense's expert witnesses on technical grounds. (One expert, Andreas Antonopoulos said he will be publishing his opinions since he wasn't allowed to testify.)
Lyn Ulbricht at the courthouse.
After the verdict, Ulbricht's family was visibly upset; his parents have staunchly maintained his innocence all along. "Evidence is not being allowed to be revealed," Ulbricht's mother Lyn said after the verdict. "It's unfair, it's not a level playing field. We were precluded from putting in evidence. Three of our witnesses were not allowed to testify. We're upset. We love our son and we don't think he belongs in prison."
"I've been outraged for weeks about the trial and the judge's demeanor," Ulbricht's father Kirk added.
The exact charges included: one count of narcotics conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years; one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison; one of count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He was also charged with narcotics trafficking, distribution of narcotics by means of the internet, and conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identification documents.