Common Misconceptions about the Silk Road Case
- “Ross is a violent drug kingpin and criminal mastermind.”
- “Ross paid to have people killed.”
- “Ross was the one and only DPR.”
- “Ross was the only target in the Silk Road investigation.”
- “The government’s evidence is irrefutable.”
- “The government’s investigation was straightforward and legal.”
- “Ross was offered a plea deal.”
- “Ross got a fair trial.”
- “Silk Road was created to sell illegal drugs.”
- “Silk Road allowed the sale of child porn, human organs, hitmen and other violent things.”
- “Ross created Silk Road for financial gain.”
Ross has no prior criminal history and was never charged with any violence. No victim was named at trial. As attested in the 100 letters to the judge by people who know him, Ross is a peaceful, compassionate, idealistic person who was committed to individual freedom and privacy. The kingpin charge was only added by prosecutors when Ross declined to plead guilty.
See 100 letters.
The government initially alleged that Ross paid to have six people killed. Although Ross denied the allegations and the New York prosecutors did not include them in his indictment, it was used to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, and justify his life sentence.
The government initially alleged that Ross paid to have six people killed. Although Ross denied the allegations and the New York prosecutors did not indict him for them, it was used to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, and justify his life sentence. After almost five years, the government has now moved to dismiss a last indictment remaining in Maryland, which was based on evidence from a corrupt agent now in prison. This means that ALL six allegations of murder-for-hire against Ross have now been dropped.
The government itself stated in court that Ross was not charged for planning murder, that the jury should not rule on it and no murders occurred.
Despite no jury ruling or charge at trial, Ross’s judge based her sentence on uncharged, unproven allegations, including murder-for-hire. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that a defendant can only be sentenced for crimes he’s been convicted of by a jury of his peers, yet Ross was condemned to die in prison based, in part, on crimes a jury never found him guilty of.
The government’s case was based on Ross being the sole Silk Road administrator, who operated under the handle “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR). This was despite the fact that the government’s lead investigator believed someone else was DPR, that DPR told the press that he wasn’t the original operator, and that proof was found that DPR logged into the Silk Road forum several weeks after Ross’s arrest when Ross was in solitary confinement.
In addition, a Silk Road administrator told prosecutors that DPR later failed an identity authentication “handshake,” indicating multiple people used the DPR accounts. This was not allowed to be mentioned to the jury.
From early on in the Silk Road investigation, the government targeted Mark Karpeles and Ashley Barr as the ones behind Silk Road and the DPR accounts. However corrupt agents tipped Karpeles off that he was under investigation, and just a couple of months before Ross’s arrest, Karpeles’s attorneys offered the name of someone else to target in exchange for their client’s legal immunity.
The only evidence linking Ross to the continuous operation of Silk Road was found on the laptop computer the government seized from him at the arrest. The laptop was mishandled by the agents who first took custody of it: they overwrote data, ignored forensics guidelines, didn’t properly document their work, and used unreliable methods. All evidence from the laptop used against Ross was a screenshot of a copy of a copy.
The prosecution tried to prove that Ross was DPR by using screenshots of online chats authored by anonymous users, or screenshots of text files that could have been created by anyone and placed on a computer in seconds. The government did not produce a single witness to testify firsthand that Ross authored any of the communication attributable to DPR.
Experts believe that the government used parallel construction (a cover story for an illegal investigation) and other lies to support their case. They collected Ross’s internet traffic information without warrants. When they did get warrants, they were general warrants lacking particularity, and were used to seize Ross’s entire laptop, email and Facebook accounts stretching back over a decade.
Ross was given a threat, not a deal.
The government arrested Ross on non-violent conspiracy charges that carried ten years to life. The prosecutor told him that if he didn’t plead guilty, they would add the kingpin charge, which would raise the mandatory minimum to twenty years. Either way, the prosecutor said he would argue for a life sentence.
Ross’s trial was full of due process violations, including:
- The judge precluded any mention of corrupt investigators, thereby hiding them from the jury.
- The judge secretly empaneled an anonymous jury in advance of trial, thereby implying Ross was dangerous.
- The judge precluded evidence of multiple DPRs.
- The government dumped a mountain of material on Ross and his lawyer before and during trial.
- The judge blocked cross-examination of government witnesses and prevented defense expert witnesses from testifying.
- Ross’s libertarian views, legal items on Silk Road, and other mitigating information could not be told to the jury.
Silk Road was an open e-commerce platform with an emphasis on user privacy. Its underlying philosophy was that “people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren’t hurting anyone else.” What was sold was left up to site users with some restrictions (see below). Although people did buy and sell illegal drugs (most commonly personal use amounts of cannabis), other items were also sold, including books, clothing, art, gold, electronics and more.
See What was Silk Road.
The guiding philosophy of Silk Road was that transactions must be voluntary and no third party should be harmed. Therefore, these and other items were prohibited, such as stolen goods, child pornography, and generally anything used to harm or defraud others. Even though users were not told specifically what to list for sale, such listings were taken down by moderators.
When he created the Silk Road website, Ross was a 26-year-old libertarian who wanted to give people the experience of a truly free market. He had worked on the Ron Paul campaign, studied Austrian economics and was passionate about freedom. As attested to in 100 letters, Ross has always been an idealist. He led a modest, frugal lifestyle with a few possessions. At the time of his arrest he was sharing an apartment with three roommates and didn’t own a car.
See 100 letters.