Researching for a school assignment at your local library? You might have sat next to the mastermind of the “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today.”
Background of the Investigation
29-year-old Ross William Ulbright “Dread Pirate Roberts” was captured by FBI agents in a San Francisco public library and charged with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering.
Ulbright’s operation rooted itself in the nebulous of the “deep web,” which is a private sector of the Internet and is only open to users of Tor (anonymizing software). Authorities claim that the “Silk Road” conducted over $1 billion-worth of transactions since 2011, and amassed over $80 million in commissions. On the website, users could buy and sell drugs with the use of bitcoins, the website’s currency, and receive deliveries of their purchases through regular mail to their homes.
Silk Road also facilitated shopping for those who seek counterfeit cash, forged ID documents, firearms, ammunition, and even hitmen. Ulbright himself allegedly enlisted the help of a hitman to kill a blackmailer who threatened to disclose the identities of Silk Road users. The FBI is collaborating with international enforcement authorities and has arrested Silk Road traffickers from the United States, Britain, and Sweden. Ross Ulbright ran a massive illegal operation, and he will be punished accordingly.
Charges under Massachusetts Law
Ross Ulbright will amass astronomical charges even though he did not physically distribute or possess any drugs. Since the “Silk Road” garnered an unprecedented size and revenues. The court will have to determine how to charge an individual who did not outright possess and distribute, but facilitated the process. Accordingly, the courts will exercise a great deal of judicial discretion. In terms of drug charges, the MGL Chapt. 94C, Sect. 32E of Massachusetts drug laws states that possession of more than 100 grams but less than 200 grams warrants up to twenty-years in prison. Combined with a fifteen-year marijuana sentence and a twenty-year heroin conviction, Ulbright may grow old behind bars.
According to M.G.L. Chap.94C, Section 40, conspiracy to violate drug laws warrants a conviction equal, no larger, than the commission of the actual illegal act. Thus, the court might consider Ulbright’s acts as conspiratorial and enabling, and thus match his conviction to a typical drug charge conviction. Finally, FBI found that Ulbright hired a Maryland hitman whom he paid $80,000, and a second hitman in Canada whom he allegedly promised $150,000. This activity makes Ulbright liable for conspiracy to murder, and he can be convicted with life in prison.
The capture of Internet prodigy Ross Ulbright sheds light on an entirely new and threatening platform for criminal behavior. Ulbright not only facilitated drug traffic, but he also opened his doors to hitmen action (which he enlisted himself). Accordingly, it seems like only a matter of time until the vilest of acts can become accessible to criminals who can benefit from anonymity and act from behind their computer screens. If a seemingly regular guy like Ulbright was able to manage Silk Road, the danger of these kinds of websites is greater than expected. The underbelly of crime is no longer the dark alley at night – it is the “deep web.”