Common Misconceptions about the Silk Road Case

Most news articles about Ross Ulbricht and his case present inaccurate of false information.
The purpose of this page is to debunk some of the most common misconceptions.

1. “Ross is a violent drug kingpin and criminal mastermind.”

False.

Ross has no prior criminal history and was never prosecuted for any violence. No victim was named at trial and all his charges at trial were non-violent. As attested in the 100 letters to the judge by people who know him, Ross is a peaceful, compassionate, idealistic young man 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 of support [PDF] and Kingpin Statute.

2. “Ross paid to have people killed.”

False.

These allegations were used to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, bias his jurors, and justify his life sentence.

The New York prosecution alleged that Ross planned violence, but never charged him for it. ALL Ross’s charges at trial were non-violent. An indictment in Maryland, which was based on evidence from a corrupt agent now in prison, did include the allegations, yet it was never prosecuted and, almost five years later, was dismissed entirely “with prejudice,” meaning the charges can never be re-filed.

Ross always denied the allegations, those who know him never believed them, and even alleged target Curtis Green has publicly stated he doesn’t think Ross ordered a hit on anyone and is a fervent supporter.

The prosecution itself stated in court that Ross was NOT charged for planning violence, that the jury should not rule on it and no murders occurred.

Prosecutor Serrin Turner addressing the jury on last day of trial
Despite no tangible proof, no charge at trial and no jury ruling, Ross’s judge based her sentence on these false, uncharged allegations. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that a defendant can only be sentenced for crimes he has been convicted of by a jury of his peers, yet Ross was condemned to die in prison not only based on crimes a jury never found him guilty of, but on now-dismissed allegations.

See Making a Murderer and Sentenced for Uncharged Allegations.

3. “Ross was the one and only DPR.”

False.

The prosecution’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 failed an identity authentication “handshake,” indicating multiple people used the DPR accounts. This was not allowed to be mentioned to the jury.

See Proof of Multiple DPRs.

4. “Ross was the only target in the Silk Road investigation.”

False.

From early on in the Silk Road investigation, law enforcement 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.

See Investigation Derailed and The Corruption.

5. “The prosecution’s evidence is irrefutable.”

False.

The only evidence linking Ross to the continuous operation of Silk Road was found on the laptop computer federal agents 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 prosecution did not produce a single witness to testify firsthand that Ross authored any of the communication attributable to DPR.

See Lowered Standards of Evidence.

6. “The investigation was straightforward and legal.”

False.

Experts believe that the prosecution 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.

See Assault on Privacy and Parallel Construction and Other Lies.

7. “Ross was offered a plea deal.”

False.

Ross was given a threat, not a deal.
Ross was arrested 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.

See The Charges and Kingpin Statute.

8. “Ross got a fair trial.”

False.

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 prosecution 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.

See Major Issues at Trial and Evidence Hidden from Jury.

9. “Silk Road was created to sell illicit drugs.”

False.

Silk Road was an open e-commerce platform with an emphasis on user security and anonymity. Ross, at the time 26 years old, envisioned Silk Road as a “free-market economic experiment,” an open platform driven by its user community. The guiding philosophy of the site was that people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they want as long as the transaction is voluntary and no third party is harmed. Users were not told specifically what to list for sale but there were some restrictions (see below). Although some people did buy and sell illegal drugs (most commonly personal use amounts of cannabis), there were also over 20 legal categories such as books, apparel, art, electronics and more.

See What was Silk Road.

10. “Silk Road allowed the sale of child porn, human organs, hitmen and other violent things.”

False.

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.

See What was Silk Road.

Silk Road Seller’s Guide (trial exhibit 120)

11. “Ross created Silk Road for financial gain.”

False.

When he created the Silk Road website, Ross was a 26-year-old idealistic 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 from family and friends written to his judge, Ross had 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.

“Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness, however they individually saw fit. [It] turned out to be a naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.”
– Ross in pre-sentencing letter to his judge

See Pre-sentencing letter [PDF] and 100 letters of support [PDF].