Misinformation about the Silk Road Case

Many news articles about Ross Ulbricht and his case present sensationalized, inaccurate or false information.
The purpose of this page is to debunk misconceptions.

“Ross paid to have people killed”

False. Amplified through inaccurate and sensationalized reporting, these allegations were used to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, bias his jurors and justify the life sentence he ultimately received.

Never charged at trial or ruled on by a jury, these unproven and unprosecuted allegations were dismissed with prejudice in 2018, and therefore can never be re-filed or used against Ross again.

The accusations relied on anonymous chats and text files never proven to have been authored by Ross. Hard evidence and testimony—including from the lead Silk Road investigator—show that, over time, multiple people were behind the site admin’s handle (who was called Dread Pirate Roberts or “DPR” for short). Two corrupt investigators (sent to prison) also had unfettered access to Silk Road and were admittedly involved in numerous plots.

Ross has always denied being involved with these allegations, and even Curtis Green, the only alleged victim ever identified, is a longtime, fervent supporter of Ross’s release.

From the only alleged “victim” known

Some people overdosed from drugs bought on Silk Road and this was presented to Ross’s jury at trial”

False. This allegation was never charged at trial or presented to jurors. Ross was never prosecuted for causing harm or bodily injury and no victim was named at trial.

A few months after Ross’s trial ended and the jury had rendered their verdict, prosecutors discussed allegations of overdose during the sentencing hearing and brought in parents of two alleged victims for impact statements. The Court of Appeals found such testimony at sentencing inappropriate.

A detailed forensic pathology report [PDF] concluded that no cause of death could be scientifically determined nor linked to Silk Road.

Many respected organizations have argued against these uncharged allegations, including Law Enforcement Action Partnership, National Lawyers Guild, FreedomWorks, Human Rights Defense Center, and more. Briefs can be read here, here, here.

Excerpt from brief joined by National Lawyers Guild, American Conservative Union Foundation, FreedomWorks, former judge Nancy Gertner, and more.

“The book ‘American Kingpin’ is well-researched, accurate and the real story”

False. It is not the real story by any means. This book is sensationalized and fictionalized and is a one-sided narrative. It was written to be a page turner, so the author took liberties, with little regard for truth and accuracy.

The author of the book has never taken the time to speak to Ross, and Ross’s family and friends refused to participate in the project as they were informed that, even before Ross’s trial, the author was set on writing a sensationalized, one-sided narrative.

“Ross is a drug kingpin”

False. Ross is a website creator, not a kingpin. He did not store, transport or have contact with any of the legal or illegal items sold on the website. He had no relationship with the sellers and no influence over prices.

In fact, the CCE charge (also known as “kingpin” charge) was only added by prosecutors when Ross chose to go to trial.

Note: Blake Benthall, the co-owner of Silk Road 2.0, a larger replica with more sales per month— arrested in 2014 on the same charges Ross was—was freed after 13 days in jail and faced only tax evasion fines.

See Nonviolent Trial Charges, and Overcharged, and Sentencing Disparity.

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

False. Even the government never alleged this. Silk Road was a free market based on the libertarian non-aggression principle. The site’s guiding philosophy was that transactions must be voluntary, and no third party is harmed. Therefore, such listings were prohibited and taken down by moderators. The Seller’s Guide, part of government evidence, clearly banned child pornography, and generally anything used to “harm or defraud” others. The lead government investigator’s testimony at trial also confirmed this.

Silk Road Seller’s Guide (trial exhibit 120)

“Ross was offered a 10-year plea deal and rejected it”

False. First, prosecutors made no written offer. Second, the verbal offer prosecutors extended to Ross was that, if he pled guilty to the conspiracy charges he was arrested for, he would face 10 years to life imprisonment. However, they made it clear they would argue for a life sentence with his sentencing judge.

Prosecutors told Ross that if he did not accept this offer, they would stack the “kingpin” charge (CCE statute) onto his charges, which would increase Ross’s mandatory minimum to 20 years. And prosecutors said they would still argue for a life sentence.

Not informed of the risks of going to trial, and after being advised by his attorneys, Ross instead chose to go to trial.

Despite misstatements by the media, the legal record confirms that Ross was never offered a “10-year plea deal.” If this were true, Ross would have taken it!

Excerpt from AUSA Howard’s declaration – April 9, 2021

“Ross was the only one running Silk Road”

False. The prosecution claimed that Ross controlled Silk Road from start to finish and was the only person behind the accounts of the top administrator, “Dread Pirate Roberts” (DPR, a character from The Princess Bride, who passed his name and identity on to his successors). This narrative was also the basis for the now-dismissed, false allegations of murder-for-hire used against Ross. Yet, this is contradicted by hard evidence and testimony and was forbidden, among other key information, from being discussed, or developed, in front of Ross’s jury:

  • The lead investigator, who worked undercover on Silk Road for two years, never suspected Ross as being DPR. During his lengthy investigation, he believed someone else was operating the site.
  • DPR granted an exclusive interview to Forbes in 2013 and stated that he wasn’t its original creator and that he “inherited” the website from someone else.
  • A Silk Road administrator told prosecutors that DPR failed an identity authentication “handshake,” indicating multiple people shared the DPR accounts.
  • DPR logged into the Silk Road forum several weeks after Ross’s arrest, when Ross was in solitary confinement. (Discovered after Ross’s trial.)

See Proof of Multiple DPRs.

“Ross got a fair trial.”

False. Many organizations and individuals have voiced concerns over Ross’s trial. It was full of due process violations, including (but not limited to):

  • The judge precluded any mention of the corrupt agents at the core of the investigation, thereby hiding them from the jury.
  • The judge secretly empaneled an anonymous jury in advance of trial, thereby implying Ross was dangerous, which prejudiced the jury against him.
  • The prosecution and judge precluded any evidence of multiple DPRs (admins) operating the website.
  • The judge blocked cross-examination of government witnesses and prevented the defense expert witnesses from testifying.
  • Ross’s libertarian views, legal items on Silk Road, and other favorable information were banned from being told to the jury.
  • The prosecution dumped a mountain of material on Ross and his lawyer at the very last moment before and during trial.

See Evidence Hidden from Jury.

“Silk Road was created to sell illegal drugs”

False. Silk Road was created as a libertarian free market, not as a drug market. When he made the website, Ross was a libertarian passionate about individual freedom, free markets, privacy and Austrian economics.

Although people did buy and sell illegal drugs on Silk Road (most commonly personal amounts of cannabis, as shown by a Carnegie Mellon University study), there were also over 20 legal categories on the website. Like on eBay, it was up to individuals what was listed (as long as it didn’t break the site’s rules).

“Silk Road turned out to be a very naive and costly idea that I deeply regret…It was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness however they individually saw fit…I do not, and never have, advocated the abuse of drugs…I understand what a terrible mistake I made.”
– Ross in letter [PDF] to the Court

See What was Silk Road.

“Ross created Silk Road for financial gain.”

False. Ross was a young libertarian who wanted to provide the experience of a truly free market. He had worked on the Ron Paul campaign, studied Austrian economics and was driven by ideals of liberty, individual choice and privacy.

As attested to in over 200 letters to Ross’s judge and the President by those who know him, Ross has always been an idealist and led a modest, frugal life with few possessions. At the time of his arrest, he was sharing an apartment with three roommates and didn’t own a car.

See Ross’s letter to the Court [PDF].